Taylor, No. 11 Florida looking for ground gains vs. Georgia
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Kelvin Taylor’s last game against Georgia was nearly flawless.
He ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 38-20 victory over the Bulldogs last year in Jacksonville. It was a career day for the son of retired NFL running back Fred Taylor and came in the stadium his famous father called home for 11 NFL seasons.
”Oh my gosh, it was one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in,” the younger Taylor said this week.
It was supposed to be a breakout performance. But Taylor hasn’t come close to matching that success since.
Taylor and the 11th-ranked Gators have really stalled on the ground in Southeastern Conference play this season. They are averaging a league-worst 2.9 yards a carry in five SEC games and have just eight runs that gained 10 or more yards.
It’s a significant concern and something Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) hopes to have fixed when it returns to Jacksonville to face the rival Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) on Saturday.
”It’s not good enough, and it’s obvious,” coach Jim McElwain said. ”We’ve got to get better. We haven’t created explosive runs. The guys are trying, but obviously it’s not where we expect it to be or where it’s going to be. We’ve got to get better there.”
It starts up front.
Florida’s offensive line was pieced together in the offseason and now includes true freshman Martez Ivey starting at guard. The unit has been better at protecting quarterbacks than pushing defenders around, and the results show.
The Gators rank 13th in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 126.7 yards a game. They’re averaging 99.4 yards in league play, one of three SEC teams below triple digits. Missouri and Texas A&M are the others.
Florida had its worst ground game in a 35-28 loss at LSU nearly two weeks ago. The team finished with 55 yards rushing on 31 carries. The Gators weren’t a whole lot better running the ball against Kentucky (120 yards), Tennessee (109), Mississippi (84) or Missouri (129).
”To be a dominant football team, you’ve got to be able to stop the run and run the football, and we haven’t done that,” McElwain said.
Florida managed to win four SEC games because of timely passing, limiting turnovers and playing stout defense. With quarterback Will Grier suspended for the rest of the season and Treon Harris back in the starting lineup, the Gators might need to rely more on the ground game.
Taylor put the burden on himself to get things turned around.
”I have to be a better running back, and this week everyone will see I will be a lot better running back than I was in the past game,” said Taylor, who was benched earlier this season for making a throat-slash gesture following a touchdown. ”I can’t wait. I have a great big chip on my shoulder and I’m just ready for Saturday.”
Taylor has topped the century mark just once in the 12 games since he ran wild against Georgia. He had 102 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee last month.
”I feel like at some point in time, if you’re a really great running back, you’ve got to make your own holes and you’ve got to make your own decisions and make your own reads,” he said. ”It comes down on me. I’m just looking forward to changing that this weekend. … The point is being a top back, so I have to start making things happen.”
Playing Georgia in Jacksonville might be just what Taylor needs for another big-time performance.
”KT is going to try to do the same thing that he did last year,” guard Antonio Riles said. ”We’re excited about that and we want to see that happen. As long as you get on the right man and do your job, KT is going to treat you right. It’s exciting to watch that boy run.”
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