Running With a Purpose: The 2021 Gators' Rushing Offense
The Florida Gators coming off a 42-20 win against the USF Bulls. A match-up that once again saw the Gators establish an emphasis on the rushing attack. As the Gators enter Week 3 gearing up for a clash against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Gainesville, we will take a look at how Dan Mullen and the Gators have been able to tweak the offensive scheme to cater their personnel.
To begin, the Gators enter the week ranked second in the FBS with 711 total rushing yards and second in yards per rush at 8.08 yards per carry. For context, the Gators did not eclipse the 700-yard mark until game six of the 2020 season. Sure, the opponents in the first match-ups of the season were severely overmatched against the Gators, but Florida's offensive line, stable of 5 running-backs and 2 dual-threat quarterbacks have been seemingly unstoppable in a very vanilla offense thus far.
The Offensive Line + Tight-Ends
The offensive line to me is the biggest story so far this season outside of Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones (we will get to them too). A unit that was competent in the pass protection last season, but struggled mightily against every opponent to generate push in the running game has turned things around. This season, a unit comprised of Richard Gouraige (LT), Ethan White (LG), Kingsley Eguakun (OC), Stewart Reese (RG), and Jean Delance (RT), have shown an increased ability to create a push and move to second-level in the run-blocking scheme. Equakun is credited with communicating pressures to the unit and allowing the quarterbacks to make the checks they need to on any given down. Reese and White's continued transformation of their bodies into true every-down players this off-season has translated into even more success on the field so far. Gouraige has been instrumental in sealing the edge, allowing the backs to get up field in a hurry. And my favorite story of this unit is Delance. In last week's game, he showed ability time and time again to open holes and push his defenders out of position.
In addition, tight-ends Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer are unselfishly putting a body on defenders downfield, paving the way for some explosive runs. I expect this pair to see their roles increased in the pass game this week, as I believe Mullen has kept their roles fairly limited for a reason thus far.
Leading the way thus far is Malik Davis. On 21 rushing attempts, he has 126 yards and 1 touchdown. Many expected his role to be primarily in the passing game, but the senior had a stellar opening game with 104 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Next, Dameon Pierce has amassed 86 yards on 11 attempts with 3 touchdowns. Another senior who has been busy in the redzone this season. The bottom half of the group, Demarkcus Bowman, Nay'quan Wright and Lorenzo Lingard have 53, 41, and 27 yards respectively.
The group together give Mullen the option to mix-up his play-calling based on their strengths. In addition, they allow the offense to keep fresh legs in the game at all times while feeding the hot hand.
Redshirt Freshman Anthony Richardson leads the team in rushing yards through two-games. In fact, just his two long touchdown runs of 75 yards and 80 yards would have him tied with Emory Jones (155 yards) for the lead. In total, Richardson is credited with 275 yards rushing on just 11 attempts. Moreover, he has yet to be tackled in the backfield for a loss. Oh, and he is averaging 25 yards per carry, which is good for first in the FBS for yards-per-carry, of course.
Emory Jones has been a major contributor as well. Current QB1 has 155 yards rushing on 23 attempts for an average of 6.7 yards-per-carry. He has added 1 score as well.
In a limited size, I have seen an increased ability of Richardson to make the more decisive reads in the read-option schemes compared to his counterpart. Jones seems to be more hesitant in these reads while Richardson simply runs through his opponents even if he makes a suspect read. I expect the coaching staff to try and get Jones more comfortable in his reads going forward. For Richardson, I would like to see some designed packages for him to get out in space and do more of the same.
The rushing attack is the identity for the Florida Gators team so far. Against two inferior teams, Mullen seemed to keep the entire offense very limited with his play-calling. However, the running game is booming. I don't believe there is any other coach in the FBS that could take an offense that averaged over 400 passing-yards-per-game last season to averaging 355 rushing-yards-per-game this season. Mullen should continue to emphasize the running game while opening the play book up as we begin SEC play. Subsequently, Mullen has hinted at some designed packages and even some two quarterback sets to make the most of his weapons. Gator fans should be excited for a more traditional Mullen offense this season, as I think he is just getting started.