GAINESVILLE | University of Florida running back Mark Thompson senses his teammates could use a boost after their disheartening season-opening loss to Michigan.
He hopes to be the one to provide it.
Thompson said Tuesday he believes the coaching staff abandoned the running game too early against the Wolverines and the struggling offense would benefit from staying committed to their plan moving forward.
“I don’t think we had very much of a problem running the ball,” Thompson said. “I just think that we had to trust the running game and continue to do it. When something doesn’t work, you don’t just give up. You keep going until you get where it works.”
Nothing seemed to work for the Gators’ offense against a sturdy Wolverines defense. But their ground attack was especially underwhelming, a puzzling development after coach Jim McElwain praised his offensive line’s progress during preseason camp.
Without suspended starter Jordan Scarlett, who was not listed on the team’s depth chart ahead of UF’s home opener against Northern Colorado, the team’s running backs gained 29 yards on 13 carries.
Thompson carried five times for just 13 yards.
Lamical Perine had seven rushes for only 8 yards.
Malik Davis’ lone carry gained 8 yards.
In short, the Gators were stone-walled by Michigan.
The Gators finished with 192 total yards and three points from their offense (two interceptions were returned for touchdowns by the defense) in a 33-17 loss.
“Getting behind the sticks the way we did, that was something that I knew was going to give us trouble if that occurred,” McElwain said. “And that sure as heck is what happened.”
It showed during the second half.
The Gators had just two first-and-10 rushes after halftime and at one point went three possessions without handing the ball off to a running back.
A 1-yard run by Perine was the only attempt by a running back during the fourth quarter.
But Thompson, a redshirt senior, said he isn’t discouraged by the effort and hopes his coaches aren’t either.
Thompson remains confident in his offensive line, saying, “I love them boys. I tell them that every day. Every single day. They’re going to come out and work hard, and we’re all going to get better.”
And he insists the ground game wasn’t far from busting loose, pointing to his 47-yard touchdown run that was called back due to a holding penalty late in the second quarter.
The Gators led 17-13 at that point, but eventually punted and couldn’t put together another productive drive.
“Regardless if it got called back or not, that’s momentum,” Thompson said. “The penalty is obviously going to bring the run back, but go right back and run the ball.”
Florida will likely feature a heavy dose of power running against Northern Colorado.
The Bears gave up 215 rushing yards to NAIA opponent College of Idaho last week and won’t be nearly as physical or athletic as Michigan’s defensive front.
Thompson sees it as an opportunity for quarterback Feleipe Franks to continue getting his feet underneath him.
And for Thompson, it’s an opportunity to back up his self-assured talk and help the offense gain confidence before the start of Southeastern Conference play against Tennessee on Sept. 16.
“I’m going to go out there and play my tail off,” Thompson said. “I hope I get the ball 20 times. I’m going to have a very good game.”