The Florida Gators are heading into the 2020 College Football season with high expectations. The running back play could be key in those expectations. The Gators finished last season with an 11-2 record including an Orange Bowl victory over the Virginia Cavaliers.
A big reason for that Orange Bowl victory was thanks to the performance of senior running back Lamical Perine. The Alabama native is no longer with the Florida program as he was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
Without Perine, Florida will need to rely on some of their more experienced backs and a five-star transfer that has already been cleared to play in 2020.
Florida Gators 2020 Running Back Preview
Dameon Pierce is a former four-star recruit out of Bainbridge High School in Bainbridge, Georgia. Pierce signed with the Gators over schools like Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, and others.
As a freshman, Pierce appeared and played a role in Florida’s offense. Pierce was the third running back on Florida’s depth chart behind Jordan Scarlett and Perine. During his freshman season, Pierce had 69 carries for 424 yards and two touchdowns. He also had five receptions for 20 yards and a score.
As a sophomore, Pierce became the backup running back only behind Perine. Pierce still contributed to Florida’s offense with 54 carries for 305 yards and four touchdowns.
Going into his junior season, Pierce will get his turn to be the starting running back for the Florida Gators. Pierce has the tools to have a breakout season. His explosiveness and vision make him a threat to get in the end zone on any given play. However, Pierce will have a very talented back that’s going to see the field a lot for the Gators.
In early January, the Florida football program got a late Christmas present in the form of Lorenzo Lingard. The former five-star running back announced that he was transferring out of Miami and will enroll at Florida. This was a huge get for the Gators as they didn’t sign a running back in their 2020 recruiting class.
Lingard still needed to get a waiver from the NCAA to allow him to play in the 2020 football season. On May 29th, Lingard got the news that he was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Adding Lingard to Florida’s running back room gives the Gators offense an elite athlete that can help take their offense to the next level.
Lingard only played one season at Miami due to injuries but was productive when he got the field. In 2018, Lingard only had 17 carries but rushed for 136 yards (8.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
The former Hurricane has always been known for his speed and explosiveness but there is a red flag with him. Lingard suffered a torn MCL and needed to get it surgically repaired. Lingard has been working hard strengthening that knee so when he steps on the field for the Gators, he’s the type of player that he knows he capable of being.
Redshirt-junior Malik Davis is the veteran in the Gators running back room. Davis started off his collegiate career with a bang. He was making explosive plays, added depth for Florida as they had suspended Scarlett before the season. Everything was looking great for the Tampa native then came the injuries.
Since Davis started making a name for himself, the former three-star recruit struggled to stay on the field as he suffered different lower-body injuries. Davis finally played a full season in 2019 but didn’t look like the same player Florida fans saw in 2017.
The explosiveness isn’t the same and he looked like he had slowed down a bit. Davis is starting to get buried in Florida’s depth chart but could get some playing time in 2020. He will need to show Dan Mullen and the Florida coaching staff that his legs are finally healthy and he’s ready to make an impact again.
The Gators really struggled running the ball last season and will need to have some type of run game if they want to reach their goals. Davis could provide some depth at the running back position especially if he starts to look like 2017 Davis.
Iverson Clement is a former four-star recruit out of Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Clement was one of two backs that Florida signed in its 2018 recruiting class.
Clement has not seen much playing time at Florida but could play some meaningful downs. One skillset that Clement possesses that stands out compared to the rest of the backs is his pass-catching ability. Clement has always been known to be a good receiving back, especially on third downs.
Perine was one of the best pass-catching backs last season which paid dividends to his draft stock and kept the ball in his hands. Clement could be used as Florida’s receiving back this season if the other running backs can’t do the job.
Nay’Quan Wright is another former four-star recruit out of Carol City High School in South Florida. Wright was a late get for the Gators and was their only running back in their 2019 recruiting class.
As a freshman, Wright only played in three games which let him get a redshirt. When Wright was in the games, he really didn’t do much as he rushed for 24 yards on twelve carries. He came into the game once the game was pretty over and Wright was on the field to run out the clock.
Wright still may not get any meaningful carries this season but it’s important for him to show out at practice. Wright needs to perform well in practice so the coaching staff can see that he’s valuable to the team. The 2021 season will be the year for Wright to make an impact on Florida’s offense if he’s still a Gator.
The running back position at Florida as lots of potential but lacks experience. Pierce has played well at Florida as a backup but hasn’t played as a starter. Lingard is extremely talented with track speed but needs to stay healthy. Davis was impressive as a freshman but hasn’t been the same since suffering some lower-body injuries. Clement is a good pass-catcher but needs to show it in games and Wright needs to work his way up Florida’s depth chart.
Florida is a team that some national media outlets have as a dark horse to make the College Football Playoffs. To do that, Florida will need to get the run game going starting with an improved offensive line.