University of Florida

Florida Gators recapture their blue-collar identity after Georgia win

AP

Two years ago, Florida smashed its way to 11 wins behind a grit-and-grind offense.

On Saturday afternoon at EverBank Field, UF made mincemeat of then-No.9 Georgia, stunning the Bulldogs 38-13 with an old-school bullying, physical rushing attack.

“We’ve always been a blue-collar-identity team,’’ embattled coach Will Muschamp said after Florida ended its three-game losing streak in the storied series.

“I think a lot of our issues offensively this year have been confidence. Timidity. … We really put it on the offensive line this week. We told those guys, ‘You need to win the game, you have a true freshman starting [at quarterback].’ I feel like we should have been able to run the ball successfully all year.”

The Gators — loose and confident — reverted to their old ground-and-pound identity, gashing the Bulldogs for 418 yards (fifth-most in school history) and five touchdowns.

It was vintage Muschamp football.

Now, the question remains whether it’s a viable game plan every week.

Freshman quarterback Treon Harris, in his first-career start, wasn’t asked to do much, but the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout didn’t get in the way, either.

Harris fumbled on a bad read-option exchange in the first quarter, but otherwise Florida’s recent “Gun, Meet Foot’’ offense disappeared with the first-year starter piloting the attack.

Harris was just 3of6 for 27 yards, and he attempted only one pass after halftime.

“We actually did have a plan to throw some passes in the game,” Muschamp said.

“I know I’ll still disappoint a bunch of Florida fans with it, but why stop running the ball when you’re able to gain yards?”

Florida purposely protected the freshman against Georgia’s vaunted pass rush, but it remains to be seen if the Gators’ no-pass strategy is sustainable even at Vanderbilt next weekend (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).

“We tried to take the pressure off [Harris] and keep his arm limited,” said tailback Matt Jones, who rushed for a 192 yards and two scores.

“We helped him out a lot.”

Florida’s one-dimensional plan inexplicably worked against the nation’s No.12 rush defense, as the Gators kept the Bulldogs off balance with power, creative wrinkles and straight swagger and heart.

“I love the contact. I love to drive people against their will,” senior center Max Garcia said.

“As offensive linemen, you have to do that. When I put someone on their back, that’s the best feeling in the world, just knowing I can overpower a man like that.’’

The Gators promised to run the ball until “the wheels fall off,” and the tires held up just fine on Saturday.

Still, it’s a strategy with little margin for error. Florida knows it must give the freshman quarterback the freedom to make plays at some point.

“I think we have to continue to develop in the throwing game,” Muschamp said.

“We didn’t [Saturday] because we didn’t need to, but we’re going to have to down the road, there’s no question.”

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