GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When Vanderbilt punted the ball to Florida down 13-6 with less than two minutes left in the game, it was a head scratcher. What followed was an even bigger head scratcher.

With a chance to run out the clock, the Gators handed off to Mark Thompson three times. Prior to the drive, Thompson had four carries for eight yards. Thompson gained 3 yards, and the Gators used just 30 seconds of game clock.

Apparently it was Thompson’s turn in the running back rotation. If UF doesn’t break from its scripted running back rotation, the future results could be worse than giving Vanderbilt one more chance to tie the game.

When it comes to the Gators’ backfield, less could prove to be more.

Rotating Thompson, Jordan Cronkrite, Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett worked great in two games: Kentucky and North Texas. In those two contests, the four-headed monster combined for 486 rushing yards on 88 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry.

Those numbers have dropped off drastically in the past two weeks when facing better SEC defenses. Against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the committee has combined for 189 yards on 51 carries, an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Overall the Gators are 10th in the SEC in rushing.

The least effective running back in that two-game stretch was Thompson. He logged 15 carries for 31 yards against the Volunteers and Commodores. Those 15 carries should be going to the other backs, mainly Scarlett.

The coaches are close to pulling the trigger on making Scarlett the feature back. He’s had the most carries in the past two games, a combined 22 carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns. But his numbers should be higher.

Oct 1, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) celebrates after a touchdown during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There is no good reason that after leading the Gators to their only touchdown in the second quarter that he sat on the bench until the middle of the fourth quarter. The idea of having four running backs with fresh legs in the fourth quarter sounds great, but is it really worth it at the cost of punting your way through the third quarter?

The fact that Thompson got the ball over Scarlett on the critical 1:30 series shows that the coaches are too caught up in the rotation. The back that had the best chance of getting the first down to ice the game should have been carrying the ball, and that back is Scarlett.

Through five games, Scarlett leads the team with 55 carries. It’s a start, but 11 carries per game isn’t enough. The Gators have a feature back on their roster, and it’s time they start using him before they lose a game by keeping their best ball-carrier on the bench.

Credit the 5-10, 213-pound Scarlett for being ready, not rusty.

He has rushed for a touchdown in four consecutive games despite carrying the ball just 9, 11, 10 and 12 times, respectively, over that span. Overall he has four of the Gators’ eight rushing touchdowns. Thompson has two, and Perine and Cronkite one each.

“When they call my number, I just try to do what I can,” Scarlett told reporters. “Just want to do my part.”

It’s time for the Gators to expand his role into leading man.