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Florida Gators X-Factor vs. Tennessee: Run Game

The Florida Gators will have to dictate the speed of the game on the ground to limit the fast-paced Tennessee Volunteers offense. The run game is this week's X-Factor.

The Florida Gators enter The Swamp on Saturday with the heavy weight of expectations they established in their two-point loss to Alabama last weekend.

Winning three out of four quarters against the Crimson Tide, the Gators took a step toward asserting themselves as a legitimate playoff contender in 2021 and did so without their explosive backup quarterback Anthony Richardson taking a single snap.

Heading into Tennessee week, players and coaches alike expressed the importance of not becoming complacent with their moral victory over Nick Saban and the Tide.

Culminating in what Dan Mullen stated to be their best practice of the season on Monday, UF is ready to prove that their Sept. 18 performance was no fluke against a rebuilding Volunteers program.

To reign victorious and produce a statement victory over their longtime SEC East foe, Florida will have to limit Tennessee’s ability to dictate the pace of the game.

As a result, the substantially improved Gators rushing game — catalyzed by first-year starting center Kingsley Eguakun — is the AllGators’ X-Factor for week four.

In Josh Heupel’s first year as the Volunteers head coach, the former UCF Knight has implemented the up-tempo offense in Knoxville, with hopes of wearing teams down early with a high number of plays ran in a short amount of time.

Having success with the scheme when in Orlando, UCF consistently ranked atop college football in total offense and passed the eye test with their explosiveness down the field.

Operating at a pace higher than any team in college football, the UT offense records 3.08 plays on average for every minute of game time.

While this may cause issues for the defensive side of the ball — given the high-level communication and emphasis on rotation that the unit usually requires — the UF offense can play a large role in taking the burden off the shoulders of Todd Grantham and Co.

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Currently ranked second in the nation in rushing offense on the season, Dan Mullen’s offense has established its dominance on the ground to open up the pass — a complete 180-degree turn from 2019 and 2020.

Churning out 335.7 yards per game to this point, the Gators ball carriers in Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and NayQuan Wright have taken advantage of the 55/45 split in favor of the run in offensive play calls thus far.

The three-headed monster in the backfield — companied by dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones — presents the ability to take over a game in any situation.

With each player proving something different to the table, the Gators have a plethora of options when trying to decide which player's skill set works best in each situation.

Need to get someone out in space off tackle? Davis is your guy. Need a bruiser to fall forward for a goal-line score? Here comes Pierce. Need a shifty playmaker who can do a little bit of both? Wright is checking in.

However, the most valuable thing is that all three are not limited to those situations above. While they all have strengths, their weaknesses — or lack thereof — makes game-planning to stop the run a challenge for opposing defenses.

On Saturday, the run game will not only be used as the outlet to score points in a productive fashion, but it will also be used to control the clock.

As a result, they will be able to effectively keep the ball out of the hands of Tennessee’s offense.

This will allow the Gators to control the speed of the game in a way that hinders the Volunteers' ability to get in a rhythm, and it keeps an otherwise tiring defense off the field for extended periods of time.

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