- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Talk to Florida running back Mack Brown about the Gators' stagnant offense, and he can't help but snicker.
It might sound silly for him to laugh off a word used to describe an offense ranking 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring (23.8 points per game), passing (191.8) and total offense (403), but Brown sees more than just stats and believes the best is coming for Florida's offense.
"If the running game is successful, then the passing game will be successful," said Brown, who is second for the the Gators with 245 rushing yards. "I feel like the passing game is going to be open for the next couple of games.
"I feel like if the running game is successful every game and we can control the clock, we can do what we planned for before the season: Be in Atlanta [for the SEC Championship Game] and then end the season in Cali. [for the BCS National Championship]."
Added starting running back Matt Jones: "We know as running backs that we have to contribute because without us, our offense kind of goes sideways."
For all the talk about the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and what Tyler Murphy has to do in his place, if Florida is going to play for an SEC title, it's going to have to strap onto the back of its running game just like last season.
This wasn't much of a passing team in 2012, and the first four games of the season have shown that 2013 won't be much different. Fans want to see more passing and more explosion, but the bottom line is that this offense is built to be a hard-nosed, physical running team first and will throw second … or even third.
Just look at Florida's ugly loss to Miami. People piled on Driskel for his three turnovers and indecision, but check out the running game. The Gators averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, the lowest average since gaining just 1.9 yards per carry in last season's 17-9 loss to Georgia.
"For us to be successful, we need a guy -- or guys -- to be able to make some big plays in the running [game] and hit some bug runs for us," coach Will Muschamp said.
Heading into Saturday's game against Arkansas, Muschamp might finally see the return of his feature back in Jones. Hampered by a viral infection during preseason camp, Jones said he didn't feel close to 100 percent until last week's Kentucky game, where he rushed for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 28 carries.
"It felt good being the workhorse of the team," said Jones, who leads Florida with 272 rushing yards.
"I have a good feeling about it."
But he won't have to shoulder all of the responsibility. He has a solid sidekick in Brown and feels confident in walk-on surprise Mark Herndon and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. While we've seen a majority of Brown and Jones (combing for 123 carries), Brown expects to see all five backs get more time.
"That's real dangerous," Brown said.
Even with Driskel under center last season, the Gators ranked third in the SEC in rushing, averaging 187.7 yards per game. With or without him this season, the running game was going to be the focus of this offense, as the Gators look for more consistency in the passing game.
In three games, Florida has rolled with its running game, but defenses are going to get better from here on out.
"When [defenses] aren't worried about playing the run, you have some issues offensively," Muschamp said. "Especially with how we're built at this point, we need to have teams respect our rushing game."
Florida has rushed for more than 200 yards in every game except the loss to Miami, but Jones still thinks this running game isn't getting its due. But he expects that will change. Couple his health with the depth in the backfield, and Jones expects to see the running game drain opponents as the season continues.
"We're kind of overlooked right now," he said. "We're kind of in the shadows, but we do wear a lot of teams down. They get really tired of tackling [the running backs].
"We wear people out when we need to."
12hSam Khan Jr.
14hSam Khan Jr.