GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — After four games, a quarterback change and the loss of its most dynamic play-maker, No. 9 Florida is still trying to find its offensive identity.
The Gators (4-0) would like to figure it out Saturday against lower-division Towson (3-1). Then again, coach Dan Mullen might not gain much from playing a team from the Football Championship Subdivision for the second time in four weeks.
Florida’s biggest concern is its ground game. Mullen’s team ranks 12th in the Southeastern Conference and 91st in the nation in rushing, averaging 136.8 yards a game and 4.21 yards a carry.
“I love balance, but I’m not stubborn,” Mullen said.
The issues stem from having four new starters on the offensive line. Losing quarterback Feleipe Franks (dislocated/broken ankle) for the season and elusive receiver Kadarius Toney (shoulder) for several weeks only added to Florida’s woes.
Improving the ground game might be necessary considering the Gators host seventh-ranked Auburn next week and then play at No. 4 LSU. Third-ranked Georgia is five weeks away. Those three matchups likely will determine whether Florida is contending for the conference championship or playing for a top-tier bowl.
“We’re going to build around the strength of our players and make sure our best guys are getting the ball in their hands,” Mullen said.
There’s little doubt that running back Lamical Perine is one of the team’s top offensive talents. But he’s yet to reach 65 yards rushing in any game, and, frankly, Florida has yet to play a defensive juggernaut.
The Gators have, however, thrown for 300 or more yards in each of their last three games — the first time they’ve accomplished that feat since the 2002-03 seasons. It’s also the first time they’ve had three 300-yard passing games in the same season since Tim Tebow’s senior year (2009).
Kyle Trask threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns in his first collegiate start last week. But he also had two interceptions, was sacked twice and lost a fumble.
“In order to be an elite quarterback, you got to be consistent in your performance,” Trask said. “So the biggest thing for me is just treat every rep like it’s your last and overall consistency.”
Mullen expects to get backup Emory Jones on the field more against the Tigers. Jones could help bolster the team’s sluggish running game.
“The one thing I told him, ‘Just make sure you’re with me, so I’m ready to get you in there quicker,'” Mullen said.
A few more things to know about Towson and Florida, which are playing for the first time:
Towson, which is ranked No. 10 in the latest FCS coaches poll, is getting $500,000 to make the trip from Baltimore. Coach Rob Ambrose embraced the payday and heaped praise on the Gators.
“This is one of the best football teams I have ever seen on film,” Ambrose said. “These guys will challenge for the College Football Playoff. They’re really, really good.”
TIGERS, TIGERS, TIGERS
The Gators are playing their first of three consecutive games against teams nicknamed the Tigers. Auburn and LSU are next up on Florida’s schedule. The Gators also play at Missouri in mid-November.
THE OTHER FLACCO
Two of the Flacco brothers are playing teams from the Sunshine State this weekend. The Denver Broncos and quarterback Joe Flacco host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. One of Joe’s four younger brothers, Tom, will take on the Gators. Tom Flacco is the more mobile of the two. He has 1,092 yards passing and six touchdowns to go along with 227 yards rushing and two scores.
Towson’s only other games against an SEC opponent came in 2012, a 38-22 loss at then-No. 3 LSU. Towson is looking for its first victory over a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision since beating Connecticut 33-18 in 2013.
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