MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Throughout the 2019 season, Florida struggled to run the ball.
In a system that relies heavily on establishing the run, the Gators had trouble getting the ground game going for much of the year and, at times, abandoned it completely. Florida ran the ball under 30 times in six contests and averaged 120.3 yards a game for the entire year, good for No. 120 in the nation. Time and again, the lack of a run game hindered the UF offense.
But from the first rush in Monday’s Orange Bowl, it was clear this game would be different.
Lamical Perine was given a sweep to the left. He broke through the line and outran every defender for a 61-yard score (his second-longest run of the year behind an 88-yard dash against Auburn on Oct. 5) and the game’s first touchdown just 40 seconds into the game. The tone was set, and it was set by the ground game.
“(Perine) is one of the best backs in the country,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game, “and if you just purely look at stats and rushing yards, you might just kind of get a misread on it, but the reality is he’s one of the best backs in the country and he showed it out here tonight.”
The pass game struggled mightily early. Quarterback Kyle Trask started the game just 6 of 12 for 42 yards in the first quarter and had a crucial interception in his own territory, which allowed No. 24 Virginia to score on the next play and tie the game.
The defense was also put on its back early in the game, allowing UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins to complete 12 of his first 14 passes and two game-tying touchdowns through little over a quarter of play.
It fell to the run game to win the game for the Gators, and it delivered.
“Just getting put in the right situations honestly,” Perine said. “(Mullen) is a great head coach and a great guy, so he just schemes it up every week, makes sure he puts players in the best position.”
Florida finished the game with a season-high 244 yards on the ground, averaging 7.2 yards on its 34 carries with three rushing touchdowns. Perine himself carried a large chunk of the load, finishing the game with a season-high 138 yards on 13 carries as well as 43 more yards receiving while notching a hat trick of touchdowns (two rushing one receiving), all in the first half.
Perine’s 181 total yards and three total touchdowns were more than his last four games combined, and he was one touchdown shy of becoming the only Gator to record four scrimmage touchdowns in a bowl game. With Perine and the run game leading the way to the 36-28 win, Florida secured an 11-win season for the first time since 2012.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Mullen said. “I told everybody; it was not hard to go from four wins to ten like last year – it was harder to go from 10 to 11.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph @dyrudolph.