GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 3 Florida is making balanced offense seem overrated.
The Gators are last in the Southeastern Conference in passing, averaging a mere 145 yards a game at a time when throwing the football is as fashionable as alternate uniforms. And it's not because they're running the triple option or the Wing T.
Nope, the Gators are simply sticking with what works best — getting the most out of a shifty running back, a fleet-footed quarterback and a physical offensive line that tends to get better the longer it's on the field.
Although the close-to-the-vest, grind-it-out style has carried Florida to its highest ranking in three years, it also has created a perception that the Gators (6-0, 5-0) are vulnerable heading into Saturday's game against No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1).
What if the Gamecocks, who rank fourth in the league in rushing defense, shut down Florida's seemingly one-dimensional attack? What if Florida gets behind early? Could the Gators survive costly turnovers?
"I didn't realize we were last in passing, but we're first in the East," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "That's all that matters. We're undefeated. We haven't dropped a game yet. If you're winning, everything's all right. Obviously we got to get better in the passing game, but we're winning games. That's all that matters."
The Gators have used stingy defense and stellar second-half performances to climb up the polls. They have trailed in five of six games this season, been down at halftime in three and never really looked like one of the best teams in the country.
It's clear that Florida has become exactly what Muschamp promised from Day 1 — a tough, physical team that outworks its opponents and does whatever it takes to win games.
Call them the orange and blue-collared Gators.
It should be no surprise that the Bowl Championship Series computers — unbiased machines that rank teams based on complicated algorithms and don't see a single down — love Florida. Others have their doubts, believing it's difficult to maintain success in this day and age while completing just 13 passes a game.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who came to Gainesville after six seasons at Boise State, wants to be more balanced. But he also makes it clear that if his offense continues giving opponents fits on the ground, he's going to stick with it.
"When we go in and hit 10 explosive plays, the bottom line is run them again," Pease said. "Run them again, OK. Let's not get greedy here as a coach and say, 'I don't like that. I'm throwing the ball because that's what we all love to do.'"
Mike Gillislee ranks second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 102 yards a game. Sophomore Jeff Driskel has just four touchdown passes, but he's completing nearly 67 percent of his passes and has just two turnovers. He also has 326 yards rushing and four scores, including a school-record 177 yards and three TDs on the ground last week at Vanderbilt. And the offensive line, which raised eyebrows when coaches called it the strength of the team, has held its own against some formidable fronts.
Throw in Florida's stout defense and two of the best specialists in the nation — punter Kyle Christy and place-kicker Caleb Sturgis — and it's hard to argue when Muschamp and Pease pass on passing and play for field position and field goals.
"If Jeff Driskel can carry the ball 70 yards and outrun everybody, he's getting the ball," Pease said. "If Mike Gillislee can get the ball and outrun everybody, he's getting the ball. And if our O-line blocks like they block, we're giving them the ball. I'm not going to be stubborn as far as playing off numbers every week. I'm going to do what's best for this team and what they create for us to be productive and score points and win football games."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who will return to his alma mater Saturday and the place he nicknamed "The Swamp" during his 12-year coaching tenure in Gainesville, always had Florida at or near the top of the league in passing. But even the head ball coach recognizes that what the Gators are doing could be special.
"There's all kind of ways to win the game," Spurrier said. "The best one is to play outstanding defense, special teams and run the ball. There've been a lot of champions that ran the ball. I remember it was 1992 when Alabama won the national championship. I think they completed one pass in the national championship game against Miami. So you don't have to throw the ball to win championships."
The Crimson Tide completed four passes in that Sugar Bowl, but Spurrier's point is valid.
And the Gators know it.
"We're just doing what it takes to win," receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. "If it's running the ball 40 times and throwing it 10, as long as we get the 'W,' I can't complain. Because at the end of the day, we're brought here to win games and win championships, and that's what we're trying to do."