Run game key to Florida's SEC Championship chances
It’s a quirky year in the SEC East as Florida has it all but wrapped up, and they did so before the calendar even hit November. With a 5-1 conference record and at least a two-game lead plus tiebreaker advantage over Georgia and Tennessee, Florida’s on their way to Atlanta to represent the East in the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2009. Head Coach Jim McElwain has exceeded first-year expectations as a stout defense and pieced-together offense have gotten the job done despite inexperience and question marks up front.
While the defense has carried the Gators all season, if they’re looking for more than just a participation trophy in Atlanta, they’ll need a strong finish from the running game — namely running back Kelvin Taylor. He’s coming off his best game of the season Saturday against Georgia as he graded at +4.0 in the run game, picking up 121 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. While he’s not a breakaway threat, he’s shown good quickness in tight areas this season and that was on full display against the Bulldogs.
For the Gators, the importance on the running back position is twofold: first, when sophomore QB Treon Harris replaced suspended redshirt freshman QB Will Grier, the short and intermediate passing game took a big hit. Harris struggles with decision making and accuracy (accuracy percentage of 67.6 percent compared to 73.2 percent for Grier), though he provides an added punch as a runner. Second, the young offensive line has struggled opening holes in the running game (no positive run blocking grades among starters), so extra pressure has been put on the running backs to make the most of subpar blocking.
With Harris in the shotgun or pistol as an added run threat, combined with Taylor’s ability to maximize yardage in short areas, Florida becomes a much more dangerous offense. The only thing missing is the home run threat, and we may have seen glimpses of the future on Saturday as true freshman Jordan Scarlett broke free for 96 yards on nine carries, including a 60-yarder. He’d been the less-frequently used of the freshman “Jordans” as classmate Jordan Cronkrite has played 22 more snaps this season. But with Cronkrite getting ejected from the Georgia game for targeting, Scarlett made the most of his opportunities.
Every team is looking for versatility in the running game, and perhaps the two-headed monster of Taylor and Scarlett, combined with the added run threat of Harris in the backfield, is the formula that will continue Florida’s success and bring an added dimension to the offense.