Running back Jordan Scarlett blasted out of the backfield as he took a handoff from quarterback Luke Del Rio against Missouri in the fourth quarter.
Seeing a hole through the right side of the offensive line, the Fort Lauderdale former St. Thomas Aquinas standout stopped in his tracks as he reached the line of scrimmage, ran through the hole before weaving to his left and shook off a pair of would-be tacklers before running unscathed the rest of the way to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
“He runs hard,” fellow running back Mark Thompson said. “That’s the key thing.”
On Saturday, when No. 14 Florida faces unranked Georgia in Jacksonville for their annual neutral-site rivalry game, Scarlett plans to run hard once again.
In a rivalry matchup where production from the ground game will be pivotal, Scarlett looks to lead Florida’s four-headed running attack into Jacksonville and help the Gators win their third consecutive game in the series.
“He's running like he wants to be the main back,” junior receiver Brandon Powell of Deerfield Beach said. “I like what I'm seeing out of Jordan this year."
Scarlett’s production this year has been what Florida coach Jim McElwain has been hoping to see. He’s fighting for yards after contact, keeping his feet moving even when a linebacker or defensive lineman hits him with full force.
He’s making an extra effort in pass protection, chipping defenders who blitz off the edge to give quarterback Luke Del Rio an extra second or two to make a play.
And through six games, the 5-10, 213-pound sophomore leads Florida with 375 rushing yards and has scored a touchdown in each of the past five games.
“He’s taken advantage of his opportunities, I think, No. 1,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “No. 2 is [he’s] not feeling sorry for himself, you know. He’s going, he’s excited about the other guys doing well and knows when he gets his opportunities he’s running hard.”
As a freshman, the game against Georgia was Scarlett’s lone true opportunity to show how hard he could run.
After classmate Jordan Cronkrite was ejected early against Georgia, Scarlett became the backup for Kelvin Taylor and responded with the best game of his young UF career. He totaled 99 yards on just nine carries in the 27-3 win. Highlighting his performance was a 60-yard fourth-quarter run where he broke past three Georgia defenders before being brought down inside the red zone.
“I was the next man up,” Scarlett recalled. “And I was just blessed I got the opportunity to get in that game, and I made the best of it.”
His performance helped Florida outrush Georgia to a tune of 258 yards to 69, a key statistic considering the winner of the last 10 matchups between Florida and Georgia has won the ground game.
To Scarlett, early success in the run game does more than just help him get into a rhythm. It allows the offense to get creative, incorporating play-action passes and forcing defenses to remain honest and respect both facets of the offense.
“It kinda gives us a little leeway, has the linebackers thinking they have to bail out a little faster,” Scarlett said. “It definitely gives us a good opportunity to get some great runs in.”
He’s not doing it alone.
True freshman Lamical Perine has started to emerge as Florida’s No. 2 back, leading the group with 6.3 yards per carry while also using his speed to take advantage of defenses on screen passes.
Thompson and Cronkrite (Miami Westminster Christian) are also still in the mix for carries, creating a diversity of looks in the offense while also allowing each runner to remain fresh late in the game.
“Those guys will get their carries,” McElwain said. “Hopefully we’ll go with the hot hand in the fourth.”
That might be Scarlett. Even if it’s not, McElwain nevertheless is content with the sophomore’s progress this year.
“He’s been good,” McElwain said. “He’s a great teammate and he just wants to win.”