GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fans, reporters and, heck, probably the opposing sideline were all wondering why Florida kept sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett off the field for more than a full quarter after he keyed the Gators’ only touchdown drive Saturday at Vanderbilt.
Scarlett’s playing time was source of confusion after Florida’s narrow 13-6 win over the Commodores. He was limited to just four carries through the first three quarters of that game while still having more impact than any of the team’s other offensive players — let alone running backs.
The Gators have been committed — perhaps stubbornly so — to their running-back-by-committee rotation. They want to get sophomore Jordan Cronkrite, junior Mark Thompson and true freshman Lamical Perine all involved.
The analysts at Pro Football Focus, who share their evaluation of Florida’s performance with SEC Country each week, provided their grades of those four running backs through the first five weeks of the season.
It backs up what many fans and observers have judged with their own eyes — Scarlett has been significantly more effective than any of the team’s other rushers.
As a quick background on PFF’s grading system, the analysts assign a rating ranging from -2 to +2 for every player on every snap and then convert that score to a 1-100 grade for the game. Usage can limit the overall grade as well.
Here are the stats and grades of the Florida’s four-headed running back committee for the season so far:
|Name||Overall Grade||Carries-Yards||Yards After Contact||Missed Tackles||QB Hurries Allowed|
For perspective, PFF’s top-graded running back in the SEC last weekend was Alabama’s Joshua Jacobs (82.1), who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
What jumps out from that PFF data is the same thing that has been apparent when watching him play — Scarlett makes more guys miss than the other backs.
There was no better example than Saturday at Vanderbilt.
It was a scoreless game midway through the second quarter when Scarlett broke off a 24-yard run down to the Vanderbilt 18. He danced through the line of scrimmage, shook off a defender a few yards past the line and then darted toward the right sideline for a big gain.
He would later cap the drive with a 4-yard scoring run, in which he deftly evaded another would-be tackler in the backfield to find a hole and score what would be the Gators’ only touchdown of the day.
Then, he didn’t touch the ball again until the fourth quarter as Cronkrite handled the lone rushing attempt on Florida’s final drive of the first half (a 10-yard gain) and Thompson and Perine split the limited carries on two possessions in the third quarter (combining for 5 yards on 3 attempts).
When Scarlett returned for the Gators’ first drive of the fourth quarter, he ripped off 26 yards on 5 carries while helping set up a field goal. He did end up with 8 carries in the final quarter, perhaps a delayed reaction by the coaches to his performance earlier in the game.
Scarlett finished with 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Those included an 8-yard loss on a run from the 5 later in the fourth quarter when he tried to create something out of nothing and another stuff at the goal line that same drive.
After the game, Scarlett expressed no qualms with his usage and stuck to the party line, although he did eventually acknowledge the committee approach has taken some adjusting on his part.
“Yeah, just a little bit, but it kind of helps and it kind of doesn’t,” he said. “You feel like, ‘Dang, I want to be in there right now. I can do this, I can do that.’ But then you’ve got another dude that can do it just as good as you. You’ve just got to be a team player. It’s a learning lesson for me at the moment, and I’m enjoying the process.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain was asked about the running back situation and specifically Scarlett again on Monday.
“He played hard, he ran hard. This guy, the one thing he’s done is he’s played with really good pad level and he’s kept his feet moving, he’s been hard to tackle, he’s made after-contact runs, which is really good,” he said. “You know, decision-wise down there, we probably went to the well one too many times (on those runs inside the 5 in the fourth quarter). It was on a fastball (and if) he follows the guard, he scores and then tried to make something out of nothing and went backwards. You know what, you’ve got to win the goal line. So these aren’t things that I haven’t talked to him about; it’s just the way it is. And yet the expectation is you’ve got to be good on every down, not just bits and pieces.”
Asked if Scarlett’s play could potentially change the distribution of carries, though, McElwain wasn’t biting.
“You know, he’s proven that he’s been able to do it. He’s made explosive runs and that’s a good thing,” is all he would say.
He was then pressed further as to how much of the running back rotation is determined before the game and how much is flexible after kickoff.
“We go through the first half, we’ve got touches for each one of them, then we kind of see how it flows from there. They’re doing a good job,” he said.
That’s probably not quite the answer Florida fans we’re looking for, but even if McElwain did have changes to that plan in mind, he probably wouldn’t share them before the game.
So it will be something to monitor again Saturday against LSU.