After years of running nowhere, Jordan Scarlett has suggestion for fixing Gators' running game
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida RB Lamical Perine recently saw a ranking of the SEC teams by their running backs. He wasn’t happy.
“I think this year they have us 10th in the SEC,” Perine said. “We plan on trying to get that a little lower. Top-five. No. 1 maybe, well, hopefully. That’s the goal. We’re just working hard this offseason and this camp just to get better.”
It’s understandable that no SEC player wants to see his position group ranked in the bottom half of the conference, but the stats last year weren’t particularly kind to the Gators running backs.
Last season, Florida was last in the conference in rushing yards per game (128.23). The Gators were also last in the conference in running plays of 10 yards or more (45).
Jordan Scarlett thinks he knows why and offered a solution on how to change it.
“Considering last year, I don’t think splitting carries would be a good thing because it obviously got us ranked last,” Scarlett said. “But I don’t know, that’s not up to me.”
Emerging from a crowded backfield, Scarlett was Florida’s top ball-carrier last season. On the surface, he might look like a middle-of-the-pack SEC rusher. He logged 179 carries for 889 yards last season, an average of 4.97 yards per carry (No. 27 in the SEC among all rushers). Advanced stats, however, show that Scarlett could be on the verge of becoming a household name.
Last month, Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus shared a few stats highlighting where Scarlett excels. PFF’s stats showed that Scarlett forced the most missed tackles (50) among Power 5 running backs with fewer than 200 carries. Scarlett stayed up through first contact on 40.8 percent of his rushes in 2016, which ranked No. 3 among running backs in the 2018 draft class. That led to an average of 3.75 yards after contact per attempt last season, which ranked No. 2 among draft-eligible SEC running backs with at least 150 carries.
PFF gave Scarlett an elusive rating of 104.5 last season, No. 2 behind LSU’s Derrius Guice among that same group of running backs. Scarlett earned 75.4 percent of his rushing yards after contact, the most of any running back in the SEC with at least 500 rushing yards.
“I take a lot of pride in (breaking tackles) because I take a lot of pride in running hard and not trying to get tackled by one man,” Scarlett said. “I’m glad that a lot of people are noticing that about me.”
The 5-11, 206-pound Scarlett clearly gives the Gators a strong, elusive running threat. So why were the team running stats so bad last season?
“I think it starts with up front, but they’ve gotten a lot better, and also the receivers blocking on the perimeter,” Scarlett said. “A lot of times the defensive backs will come and make a gang tackle with the safety and stuff. So I think if we get all 11 to be locked in blocking for us that will create some explosives for us.”
Perine, for one, sees an improved offensive line this season that works better with the running backs.
“I just feel like those guys are communicating better,” he said. “That’s something Coach Mac has really been preaching. We are really carrying that out on the practice field. I feel like those guys are really doing a good job.”
Offensive line coach Brad Davis and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider have worked to get the two groups on the same page. Perine says the two position groups hold more meetings together this year. RT Jawaan Taylor says run blocking has been stressed this offseason, with Davis reminding the group of the Gators being last in rushing offense “pretty much every day.”
“It’s a point of emphasis for us this year,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to create a lot more space and lanes. That’s why the offensive line’s been working really hard. So we can have way more rushing yards this year than we did last year.”
The offensive line needs to do a better job, but another important part of the running game equation is to give Scarlett his carries. Last season, the Gators employed a committee approach that rotated running backs by series, sometimes resulting in Scarlett sitting on the possession following a touchdown run. Like Scarlett said, the committee approach didn’t seem to work last season.
If Florida gets another shot at Alabama, Scarlett wants the ball in his hands. He particularly wants revenge for Alabama’s goal-line stand in the third quarter, when Florida had a chance to cut into the Crimson Tide’s 33-16 lead and get back in the game. It’s a series that swung the game, as Alabama drove down the field to make it 40-16 after the goal-line stand, seemingly breaking what was left of the Gators’ spirit.
“(I think about it) a lot, definitely, to get back to Atlanta to see those guys and give them what they gave us last year. Because we’ve got to give them what they deserve,” he said. “They did that. We’ve just got to show them what we’ve got this year. I think my offensive line is ready, and I think this whole Gator team is ready.”