Florida Gators Running Backs & Fullbacks – 2010 vs. 2011

Part two in a series where The Bull Gator and I go over the Florida roster differences from this season to last and what to expect in 2011. Click here to view our thoughts on the Gators quarterbacks.
2010: Emmanuel Moody – RSR, Steve Wilks – RJR, Jeff Demps – JR, Chris Rainey – RJR, T.J. Pridemore – RSO, Mike Gillislee – SO, Mack Brown – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: C
To begin the 2010 season, one could have made the argument that UF’s running backs were one of the strongest units on the team. They had the guy who had really underachieved his whole career but was destined to have a great senior year (Emmanuel Moody), the speedster that would find an open hole and the next thing you knew he would be celebrating in the endzone with his teammates (Jeff Demps), the other speedster who would have double-duty as a WR and RB but would without a doubt excel in both areas (Chris Rainey), and the young guys who were just itching to get the chance to show what they could do (Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown). Throw in two experienced fullbacks in Steve Wilks and T.J. Pridemore and the Gators backfield in 2010 had the chance to be something special.
And then the season started.
Much like the quarterback position, it’s difficult to determine who is responsible for the backfield’s lack of production in 2010. Was it the players themselves? Was it the play calling? Was it the offensive line? Was it the lack of a passing game that allowed defenses to hone in on the run game? Was it that damn text message? Or maybe it was a combination of all of the above.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter who’s to blame. What matters is that the Gators once again did not have a go-to RB and did not have a back that even sniffed the 1,000-yard mark. Not having a 1,000-yard rusher is fine when you have the likes of Tim Tebow gaining 700+ yards and the combination of Demps and Rainey gaining over 1,300 yards, which occurred in 2009. But in case you hadn’t noticed, Tim Tebow is no longer wearing orange and blue on Saturdays (he prefers to wear it on Sundays now!).
In 2010, the Gators rushed for an average of 166.5 yards per game, and were kept under 100 yards on the ground four separate times including the game against South Carolina in which the Gators were only able to manage a whopping 35 yards of rushing. Even sadder is that the Gators actually had a long rush that day of 25 yards, so you can imagine how effective the other runs were. The 166.5 yards was good for 44th best in the nation in 2010, something that I grade as very average and therefore give a C.
Jeff Demps finished with the most yards on the team: 551. To put that in perspective, 142 players in Division 1A college football had more rushing yards than Demps. Chris Rainey probably would have finished with roughly the same amount of yards had he not been suspended for five games after reminding his girlfriend that it might be her time to pass away. When it was all said and done, 10 players in college football had more rushing yards than all of the running backs listed above combined. In a nut shell, our rushing attack was not so much of an attack at all.
Oh yeah, and those two fullbacks listed above…well, let’s just say that it took me a while to remember who the fullbacks even were from last year’s team. After all, what in the world does a fullback do in the spread offense? The answer: apparently not too much.
2011: Jeff Demps – SR, Chris Rainey – RSR, Mike Gillislee – JR, Trey Burton – SO, Mack Brown – SO, Hunter Joyer – FR
Preseason Rating: C
I am really not sure what else to grade this unit besides the grade that they ended up with in 2010. I mean, we are talking about pretty much the same exact group of players. The top five rushers from last year’s team are returning this year (which includes Trey Burton and Jordan Reed, who technically weren’t RBs last year). And if last year’s unit was only a C, what’s to make me think that this year’s unit will be significantly better, or worse for that matter?
A part of me says that with this new I-form offense, we will put more emphasis on the run game and therefore our rushing stats will go up from where they were last year. And while that may be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the unit will be better. Just because you have better stats on more carries, doesn’t mean anyone is bending over backwards to hand you the Doak Walker Award. With that said, Jeff Demps was recently named to the watch list for this exact award, so what do I know?
I hope that I am being too hard on this unit and that by the end of the year I look back at this analysis and realize that I was way underestimating the abilities of this unit and of our offense as a whole. I hope that both Demps and Rainey flirt with the 700-1,000 yard mark for the season. I hope that Gillislee continues to improve, becomes a force in goal line situations like he has the ability to do, and maybe even pushes for a starting spot by the end of the season. (Side note: does anyone think it’s crazy that Gillislee is already a junior?) I hope that the versatility of Burton allows him to line up all over the field and becomes an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. Lastly, I really hope that Mack Brown is not the bust that I thought he was when he came out of high school and proves me, and other doubters, wrong by making a name of himself this upcoming season. (Side side note: does anyone think it’s crazy that our previous coaching staff wasted Mack Brown’s redshirt year last year?)
Maybe the most intriguing guy to watch heading into the 2011 season is a guy who you may not have even noticed last year had he been on the team. As a true fullback, someone who certainly isn’t scared to lay the wood and put a helmet in a defender’s chest, Hunter Joyer should be a valuable addition to this “new and improved” offense. The downhill and attack-like nature of the I-form offense is perfect for a bruising fullback like Joyer. And while it has been a few years since I got to cheer loudly for a fullback when he got into the game (I miss you Billy Latsko!), I think Joyer may be the perfect player to help bring back this tradition.
As with many of the units on UF’s 2011 team, there may be more questions than answers when it comes to looking at the running back corp. We pretty much know what the returning players can do, so that makes life a little easier. But in reality, we have no idea how Charlie Weis and company plan to use the running backs, how the running backs will fit into this new system, how the offensive line will look when it comes September, and how the passing game and John Brantley will help the running backs by providing them with a consistent and dangerous-enough passing attack so that the opposing defense is kept honest. But hey, if we knew all these answers, what fun would the actual games be?