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The Rush Factor: Analyzing the Running Game of the Hurricanes and the Gators

When it comes to the ground game, it’s all about give and take

Pittsburgh v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Some of our most recent editorials have highlighted the passing game as it relates to both Miami and Florida. From a pair of standout receiving options to the defenders who aim to set up a no-fly zone, there are many intriguing matchups to analyze ahead of kickoff. Aside from special teams — we might write that article eventually — the running game is the only other position that has been given the cold shoulder. That ends today.

Establishing the run is ingrained in the offense’s DNA for both the Hurricanes and the Gators. Each side takes great pride in imposing their will on an opponent. Bringing defenders closer to the line of scrimmage helps to open up opportunities for play-action, as well as the passing game in general. Buying more time for the passing game is an indirect reward of a lethal rushing attack.

The Hurricanes’ rushing attack begins with junior RB Deejay Dallas. One of the most exciting backs in the country, Dallas has evolved from gaining infrequent carries as a freshman to a nifty runner with an 8.3 yard-per-carry average in 2018. Now, the Georgian is considered a staple of not just the run game, but a keystone in the foundation of the football program in 2019. Promising sophomore Cam’Ron Harris shone bright with limited carries as a frosh. He’s expected to combine with Dallas to form a formidable duo capable of breaking off big runs, or churning out important runs between the tackles.

Looking across to the other sideline, the Gators are no slouches rushing the ball. Their 213.1 rushing yards-per-game was better than the Canes’ 191.4 in 2018. Led by Lamical Perine’s 826 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns and 6.2 YPC, the Gators finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 213.1 rushing YPG. UF loses their second-leading rusher RB Jordan Scarlett (776 yards, 5 TDs, 5.9 YPC), but retain virtually everyone else from that group. There’s confidence from Miami’s rival that if the offensive line issues are addressed that the Gators have a legitimate shot at contending for an SEC East title. There plenty of optimism in Gainesville for sophomore RB Malik Davis, who has rushed for 587 yards, three touchdowns and 6.4 yards per carry average in his time with the Gators.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Before we get ahead of ourselves… while the running backs are the logical answer to who will be the driving forces behind a rushing attack, the X-Factors are actually the quarterbacks. QB Feleipe Franks draws criticism for not being a traditional dropback QB. What he may lack in consistency as a passer, he more than makes up tucking the ball running downfield. The 6’6”, 240 pound pivot has no qualms about running up the middle of the defense or racing to the edge of the formation to scamper for big yardage. His threat as a runner poses an interesting challenge for UM. Franks has not exceeded 14 carries in a game, earning a career-high 74 rushing yards against Michigan in last year’s Peach Bowl. It would be interesting to hear whether the Hurricanes’ defense would prefer to have Franks scrambling as a runner or be the junior beating them with his arm.

The Hurricanes have benefited from QB mobility for much of the last two seasons. Former starting QB Malik Rosier rushed for 768 yards between 2017 and ‘18. It’s unlikely that offensive coordinator Dan Enos will center the offense around the quarterback run. However, UM’s OC has been adamant about playing to the team’s strengths in his first year at The U. A run here and there by Jarren Williams would provide a versatile offensive system, one that already has UM fans hyped.

Getting excellent production is great, but to get your own running game going, you need to have an answer to the ground game of your opponent. Both UM and UF found themselves closer to the middle of the pack in regards to their ability to stop the run. In 2018, Miami ranked 42nd in the country, allowing 143.3 yards-per-game. Florida counters with the 65th ranked run defense allowing 165.5 YPG. Both defensive coordinators feel that they can improve on that production in the months to come. Most of the members of their front-seven return for a new year. The loss of DE Jachai Polite, DE Cece Jefferson and LB Vosean Joseph represent significant attrition. Despite those losses, UF returns stellar defenders LB David Reese II, DL Jabari Zuniga and DL Jonathan Greenard. Many preseason publications believe that the group is trending towards improvement.

Donning our Orange and Green shades, Miami also lost major contributors to the NFL. DT Gerald Willis III (led UM with 18 TFLs in 2018) and DE Joe Jackson (led UM with nine sacks in ‘18) were two focal points of the Canes’ defense. The Hurricanes feel that they’ve reloaded along the defensive line entering the season opener. The ascension of junior DE Jonathan Garvin has caught the attention of pro scouts and will be a primary threat that offenses will attempt to limit on game days this fall. Defensive tackles Chigozie Nnoruka, Jon Ford and Nesta Silvera have battled it out in camp to replicate the disruptive interior pressure from Willis last year. There are many people who feel there is plenty of promise of rotational depth at the position when the team walks into Camping World Stadium. The high expectations placed on Miami’s underclassmen needs to translate into production sooner rather than later. At least the young pups can lean on the veteran experience. Headlined by an imposing group of senior linebackers: Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, Zach McCloud and striker Romeo Finley.

It’ll be interesting to see which team fights their way to have an edge in the ground game. Of course, each side has their concern regarding the play along the offensive line. The more cohesive unit in the trenches could be the determining factor to which team starts 1-0 and 0-1.