GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Speaking after the game Saturday night, Florida coach Jim McElwain was already eager for the Gators’ practice Tuesday and his opportunity to teach running back Jordan Scarlett a lesson about ball security.
Scarlett had fumbled at the goal line in the fourth quarter of Florida’s 40-14 win over Missouri, costing him a chance at another touchdown.
“I get to run Jordan Scarlett’s drill on Tuesday and I’m excited about that. I really am. And I’m sure he’s looking forward to it, too,” McElwain joked.
That might have been the only flaw in an otherwise terrific rushing performance from the Gators and Scarlett in particular.
The sophomore continued his impressive fall with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for his first career 100-yard game.
And that was only the second-best total on the team Saturday as freshman Lamical Perine went for 106 yards on 11 carries for his second 100-yard effort of the season.
Junior Mark Thompson added 65 yards on 10 carries and overall the Gators rushed for a season-best 287 yards while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.
“I just like the way that they’re competing,” McElwain said of his running backs. “And I like to see that guys aren’t hanging their heads. When they get the opportunity, they run hard.”
That is the blueprint for offensive success for this Florida team.
When the ground game is rolling, the Gators have shown great potential offensively. When it isn’t, they’ve shut down.
It’s a simple formula.
“We had a good rotation going into the game, and I just liked the way we performed. I love it,” Scarlett said.
Granted, it’s easier to achieve that kind of success against the likes of a Missouri defense that had given up 418 rushing yards to LSU in its last game. Florida also rolled up 244 rushing yards against a bad Kentucky defense and 255 against an overmatched North Texas team.
It was a different story against Tennessee and Vanderbilt when the Gators were held to 106 and 92 rushing yards, respectively, while averaging just 3 yards per attempt through those two games.
Those were against better defenses, but they were also the two games Florida played without injured starting quarterback Luke Del Rio. Scarlett had spoken candidly earlier in the week in expressing that he felt Del Rio’s return Saturday and his ability to expand the offense would open things up more for the running backs.
Del Rio didn’t have a good game individually while throwing 3 interceptions, but the rushing attack certainly awoke.
The Gators’ (at times) maligned offensive line deserves a large share of credit for that as well, creating nice running lanes throughout the lopsided win. Freshman right tackle Jawaan Taylor could put together his own highlight reel of manhandling blocks from his performance Saturday.
“I thought we wore on them a little bit,” McElwain said. “We got some explosive runs down there at the end. Probably could have run it more, but we wanted to still continue to work on some things in the passing game. And yet in the end when we needed to run it we did.”
Florida racked up 122 of its rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
Scarlett, who had a 29-yard run earlier in the game, tacked on a 33-yard touchdown scamper early in the final period, and Perine collected 85 of his yards in the fourth.
That included a 59-yard run on which he was tackled at the Missouri 8.
“He did an awesome job, awesome. But you know I had to call him a fat boy because he got kind of caught at the end,” Scarlett joked. “I know him better than that, he should have scored that one. But he’s going to get it next time. I just love the way he runs. I love his passion.”
Perine, who also had 105 rushing yards against Kentucky in Week 2, is now among exclusive company, joining Jeff Demps (2008), Fred Taylor (1994), Errict Rhett (1990), Emmitt Smith (1987), Neal Anderson (1982) and Tony Green (1974) as the only true freshmen with multiple 100-yard rushing games for Florida since 1955. Perine is averaging 6.3 yards per carry for the season and is up to 300 rushing yards overall.
Scarlett, meanwhile, continued his breakout campaign. He now leads the Gators with 375 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
He was glad to finally get that first 100-yard game under his belt, too.
“It meant a lot. It was a long time coming, definitely,” he said. “Last year I was close, I think I had 99. (It was 96 vs. Georgia). And then a couple times this year I got a little closer, but I’ve just got to give props to my offensive line. They helped me spring up to a 100-yard game and I’m blessed.”
As for that fumble at the goal line, Scarlett said he expected to hear plenty from McElwain about it. The lesson, he said, was not trying to reach the ball out with one hand and expose it in that way.
Overall, though, the one mishap couldn’t spoil his evening. Nor should it.
“I feel like I did pretty well, thanks to my offensive line, but I feel like I could do better,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
There’s no doubt still plenty of room for improvement for the Florida offense, but Saturday was a reminder of the Gators’ potential when the ground game sets the tone as it did.
The next step is showing they can do that consistently. Time will tell.