LEXINGTON, Ky. — All week the talk was about Kentucky’s rushing defense. The Wildcats allowed just 171 rushing yards through three games. Florida, apparently, didn’t care.
The Gators rushed for 186 yards against Kentucky; physically imposing their will on he final two drives of the game. Who did Florida turn to with the game on the line? It wasn’t suspended Jordan Scarlett, senior Mark Thompson or even the starting running back Lamical Perine. Florida turned to a freshman Malik Davis.
“We just kind of felt he was hot there,” Jim McElwain said of Davis. “Mark did some things as well. Lamical ran hard early. We just, he was just kind of in there and rolling so we went ahead and stayed with them.”
Davis carried the ball a career high 21 times for a career high 93 yards. A week ago Davis tweeted (unnecessarily) an apology for fumbling the ball at the goal line against Tennessee. For most of the night Davis was dazzling.
“He was turning runs that should be maybe a yard, maybe two yards into five-yard gains,” quarterback Luke Del Rio said. “That’s how we won the game.”
Davis looked like he was back at Jesuit High School where he set the Hillsborough County career rushing record as a senior.
In the first two games Davis carried the ball just five times. His 21 carries against Kentucky are the most for any running back since Jordan Scarlett carried it 22 times against LSU last November.
The confidence in Davis down the stretch was telling. Facing a 4th down and 1 the Gators called a simple dive play to Davis. He freshman picked up seven yards.
“Malik put the team on his back and he was carrying us, man,” CeCe Jefferson said. “When we needed those 4th and 1s, coach Mac has so much confidence in a true freshman that with no hesitation he calls a play for Malik to get the ball. That speaks volumes for Malik and his character. The night was definitely a statement game for Malik Davis.”
The running back rotation remains extremely convoluted heading into Florida’s fourth game of the season. Davis’ 26 carries is three more than Perine and his 195 yards are 105 more than Perine as well.
The Gators will host Vanderbilt, who is coming off of a 59-0 loss to Alabama, next week in The Swamp. Vanderbilt has given up 697 yards rushing in its last two games, including 496 to Alabama.
Florida should be able to run but who will get the bulk of the carries? Davis certainly made a compelling case to take over as the Gators’ lead back.