Monday, October 13, 2008

Gators room to run

Wider line splits give Gators room to run

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 12, 2008

GAINESVILLE — The Miami Dolphins aren't the only football team in Florida to use a little gimmickry to jumpstart the running game.

With "wider splits" on the offensive line, as Florida coach Urban Meyer called it, the Gators (5-1, 3-1 SEC) gashed LSU's stout run defense for 265 yards on 6.5 yards per attempt in Saturday night's 51-21 victory at The Swamp.

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen positioned the five offensive linemen farther away from each other, to create more space for speedy scatbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.

It's not as fancy as the Dolphins' single-wing Wildcat attack, but proved just as effective.

"Usually it's a couple feet split, but we had a good 3, 4-foot split in there," Meyer said. "Some of those runs that Demps and Rainey were hitting were from that alignment.

"We've been messing with that for about two years ago - we did that against them a year ago in Baton Rouge (and) we're going to continue to mess with it."

Florida's running game had been criticized during the first four weeks of the season. It never once cracked 4 yards per carry in consecutive games against Miami, Tennessee and Ole Miss. It also failed to pick up a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the loss to Ole Miss.

But now the Gators have rushed for 278 and 265 yards in consecutive weeks against Arkansas and LSU. And thanks largely to their dominant run game, the once-reeling Gators jumped from No. 11 to No. 5 in Sunday's Associated Press poll, thanks to losses by former No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Missouri and No. 4 LSU.

"We were really able to gash them," quarterback Tim Tebow said. Demps and Rainey "are so fast that you can spread a defense out with four or five receivers, and when they hit it they can get some big yardage."

Demps had 129 rushing yards on 10 carries - including a 42-yard touchdown out of the wider splits - while Rainey had 66 yards on 11 carries.

The post-game reviews of the formation were all positive.

"It's a lot more space for me, but I like it," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "I mean, it works. Might as well keep it in the game plan now."

Mullen and Meyer each credited offensive line coach Steve Addazio and tight ends coach John Hevesy for preparing the offensive line to run out of the formation the past two weeks.

Mullen said the wider splits were especially effective for Rainey and Demps to run between the tackles against LSU's big defensive line, which entered Saturday's game allowing just 2.6 yards per carry.

"Our splits create a little bit of a hole to start with before the play even starts," Mullen said.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is famous for using the wide splits, and Mullen said he saw Wake Forest running it in its Thursday night victory over Clemson.

"I said, 'Looks like Wake Forest's is working decent for them. I hope it works for us on Saturday because we knew we were going to do it,''" Mullen said.

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