GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The No. 20 Florida Gators know the challenge Kentucky will present to the running game on Saturday.
The Wildcats come into the game ranked third in the nation in rush defense, allowing an average of just 57 yards per game. Through three games, they have yet to allow a rush longer than 11 yards.
Meanwhile, Florida’s rushing offense has been anything but intimidating during Jim McElwain’s tenure. Over McElwain’s first two seasons, the Gators ranked in the bottom two of the SEC in total rushing offense.
And there’s this: Florida hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown in its last eight games. In that span, the Gators are averaging just 81.9 rushing yards per game, just 2.8 yards per rush, and have three games with 12 yards or fewer.
The Gators will get another chance to prove themselves Saturday.
“It’s going to be tough for us,” right tackle Jawaan Taylor said. “We’re just going to have to work hard in practice and prepare for Kentucky’s defense, which I know they’re a good defense. It’s going to be a challenge for our offensive line. We’ll prepare for it.”
Florida hopes to build on the momentum it gained on the ground against Tennessee last weekend. The Gators compiled 168 rushing yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. It was Florida’s best rushing game in terms of total yards since its 20-7 win over South Carolina (171) on Nov. 12, 2016, and the second best in terms of yards-per-carry under coach McElwain (7.4 against Missouri on Oct. 15, 2016).
“Just showing us, the offensive line, that when we do our job, our guys can create plays,” Taylor said. “It helped us tremendously.”
It also helped Florida realize that it has three running backs capable of handling responsibilities when they split carries.
Freshman Malik Davis has shown the most promise, gaining 102 yards on just five carries. He almost ended Florida’s rushing touchdown drought when he broke past a pair of Tennessee defenders and ran 72 yards down the sideline before being stripped from behind and watching the ball roll out of the end zone.
Sophomore Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson are the workhorses and have had moderate success through two games. Perine has 63 yards on 18 carries while Thompson has 43 yards on 12 touches. The duo had 85 combined yards against Tennessee on 18 carries.
“They’re extremely talented,” offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said. “The one thing we have to do to help them is we have to create more explosive runs because there were a lot of 2- and 3-yard runs. That falls on us. We have to make the holes to let them make 7-yard plays and score and go to the house.”
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