Florida coach Dan Mullen said Saturday that he likes his play calling to be about 50-50 in terms of rushing and passing. He went on to say that he likes to tip the scales toward the side of the run.
This was just minutes after the Gators’ 28-21 victory over Kentucky, in which UF threw the ball more than it ran it for the first time in four games. Florida passed the ball 30 times and ran it 27 times, and the scale tipping on the side of the pass makes sense; the Gators trailed for much of the game.
Naturally, Florida aired the ball out more. At the same time, UF struggled to run the ball up until its last offensive snap when Josh Hammond took an end around 76 yards to the house.
Were it not for this last-second score — Florida’s longest play from scrimmage this season — the Gators would have averaged about 2.3 yards per carry on the night. Hammond’s run more than doubled that average to a much more respectable 5.1 and dragged UF’s total rushing yards up over 100.
Florida is running the ball less often than it did in 2018 through three games. The Gators ran the ball 54 percent of the time in its first three games last season, compared to 50 percent this season.
This slight shift away from the ground game corresponds with a decrease in the team’s rushing efficiency and a marked increase in its passing efficiency. In 2018, again through three games, UF’s yards per carry was 5.4 and its yards per passing attempt was 7.4. This season, Florida’s YPC dropped to 4.5 and its YPA spiked to 9.3.
Lamical Perine, the Gators clearcut bell cow back and a preseason second-team All-SEC pick, is averaging just 3.5 YPC. That’s down from 6.2 last season and 7.6 in the first three games.
Perine’s 34 carries is more than three times that of the team’s second-most utilized running back, Dameon Pierce. The team’s second- and third-leading rushers are Hammond, who has just one carry, and quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Malik Davis (1.5 YPC) and Pierce (also 3.5 YPC), the No. 2 and 3 running backs on the depth chart have not fared much better than Florida’s feature back. Although, the volume hasn’t been there for either of them, combining for 16 carries.
Against Miami, Florida totaled just 50 yards on the ground on 28 carries. That was the first time in 13 games the Gators failed to accumulate triple digit rushing yards. UF had 96 on the ground against Florida State in 2017 and eclipsed 100 rushing yards in every game last season.
Florida’s rushing yards ballooned to 231 against FCS UT Martin and came back down to Earth against Kentucky with 138.
Through three games in 2018, UF averaged 175 yards on the ground per game. This season, that number is down to 139.7
Conversely, the team’s passing yards have increased to 288.7 per game this season from 175.5 at this point last year. The Gators aerial attack has been the superior option so far. Franks, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, had three passes of 65 yards or more in three games.
Going forward with a quarterback change, most teams would likely lean on the running game with inexperienced playcallers adjusting to more prominent roles in the offense. But Florida’s deficiencies on the ground may take away that crutch.
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected].