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Florida Gators 2021 Positional Review: Running Back

The Florida Gators suited up as one of the best rushing teams in college football in 2021, but what were they able to accomplish as a unit?

Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

Yesterday, we reflected on the Florida Gators' 2021 season a bit by taking a look at the quarterback position. As part of a series, we will take a look at what went right and what went wrong for UF with a position-by-position analysis of the team.

Today, we are taking a look at the running back position for Florida, one of the most important aspects of its offense in 2021. Florida finished the season ranked No. 23 in rushing yards while finishing fourth in yards per attempt with 5.48 YPA.

While the team's leading rusher was actually its starting quarterback in Emory Jones, the backbone of the offense was predicated by its designed runs; That's something Florida thrived at, when possible.

When it comes to Florida running backs, the first player worth mentioning is RB Dameon Pierce, the team's leading tailback in 2021. While he was only able to receive 100 rushing attempts due to a rotation at the position, Pierce was able to run the ball for 574 yards, 5.7 yards-per-carry and 13 rushing touchdowns.

But what Pierce did on the field to put his team in better positions is remarkable. He would add 342 yards after contact, 16 broken tackles, nine missed tackles forced and the highest first-down percentage of any RB on the team at 36%. Still, he was given 10 or more carries in a single game just twice last season.

Against Florida State, Pierce ran the football 12 times; he'd run a season-high 13 times in the program's loss against Central Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl.

Under head coach Dan Mullen and running backs coach Greg Knox, the Gators implemented a rotation that was met with plenty of scrutinies. With good reason, too, the Florida passing game wasn't clicking on all cylinders throughout the season, and needing a bell-cow to carry its offense was of intrigue.

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Behind Pierce, the two RBs that carried the majority of the load were both Malik Davis and Nay'Quan Wright. Davis was the most veteran of the entire group, carrying the football 92 times for 489 yards and five touchdowns. He caught the football 23 times for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

As for Wright, he would carry the football 76 times for 326 yards and one touchdown, yards per attempt average of 4.3 yards.

Still, even with a rotation, the Florida RBs were plenty effective, allowing for its offense to continue moving even in the midst of a forgotten and disappointing season.

As for its younger backs, both Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard weren't able to see the field very much. Bowman would play in just four games, while Lingard saw action in five. Bowman rushed for 81 yards on 14 carries, Lingard 43 yards on 11 carries. Neither would score a touchdown.

All three of Lingard, Bowman and Wright are slated to be the top three backs, not in that order, for Florida moving forward into 2022. What they do this year will likely dictate how much activity we see from Florida in bolstering the group moving forward, too.

Although, the team has already decided to upgrade its position group, set to sign Loisianna native, RB Trevor Etienne in the 2022 recruiting class. There's potential for other players, too, including ULL transfer RB Montrell Johnson, though that has not been announced as of yet.

In all, the Florida RB position last season was one of the best groups on the roster. Though there are arguments to be made whether or not they utilized their talents as efficiently as possible, the program's core made the most of its efforts, making it a deadly combination through multiple games last season.

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