Before the season began, Florida's depth chart at running back consisted of a senior who has had an up-and-down career, a transfer who hadn't played in nearly 18 months, a redshirt freshman who was coming off shoulder surgery from the previous year and Jeff Demps, the true freshman with world-class speed and no college experience.
It was Demps who intrigued coach Urban Meyer most. He thought with time, lots of time, Demps had the potential to be a great player at Florida.
But running backs coach Kenny Carter saw things a little differently. During his first full meeting with Demps, who arrived on campus in July, the veteran coach sensed Demps could be an impact player quickly.
"I did not (think it would take awhile), and I'll tell you why," Carter said emphatically. "The first time I got a chance to sit down with him and talk about our pass protection scheme and the things that we do, he took to it and he understood it and could spit it back at me immediately. When he did that, I was a happy man. Because I knew that if he could do that, he was ready. That was right when we started being able to do football stuff. He just took off and could do it all. So we were really excited about that."
Along with excitement, Demps and redshirt freshman Chris Rainey have brought a legitimate running game to the Gators, something Meyer hasn't had in his previous three years at Florida — outside of wide receiver Percy Harvin. The Gator running backs have accounted for 896 yards on 127 carries and 10 touchdowns — they had 136 carries for 761 yards all last season.
The emergence of Demps and Rainey came after Florida's loss to Ole Miss, in which senior Kestahn Moore and transfer Emmanuel Moody both sustained injuries.
Rainey and Demps got their shot. And they have made the most of it. In the last three games, the duo has carried the ball 52 times for 487 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Demps has had two consecutive 100-yard games, and his 11.9 yards per carry lead the nation (minimum 25 attempts). His average touchdown run is 47 yards.
"I'm working as hard as I can, just trying to do whatever I can to help my team," the soft spoken Demps said. "I still have a lot to learn."
In the Arkansas game, the Gators set a single-game record for rushing yards (278) under Meyer, then followed it up with the second-best mark the following week against then-No. 3 LSU.
At "5-foot-nothing" as Meyer jokingly refers to Demps (5 feet 8) and Rainey (5-9), the two pose a dangerous threat because of their speed. Demps has run a 10.01 100-meter, and just missed qualifying for the final in the U.S. Olympic Trials this past summer. Rainey has run a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash and a 10.23 in the 100-meters. Demps is most tough to defend in the Gators' speed-option because once he breaks free, he has the potential to make huge gains.
"It (the option) allows me to get into space and when I get into space, I can do a lot of things and get upfield," he said. "When you get the pitch, you're looking at your blocker first, just trying to make a read off the block. Once you get past the block, you start looking downfield."
Meyer said when he sees Demps or Rainey breaking free out of the backfield, "I become like a fan. It's a beautiful thing to watch."
It's also a tremendous help to quarterback Tim Tebow, helping to broaden the offensive game-plan.
"Having them in the game just opens things up," Tim Tebow said. "Their speed allows them to get to the edge. We can put them in open space to try to create one-on-one matchups. They are so fast and athletic we can stretch the field horizontally."
In the Gators' first seven games, Demps has averaged 12.1 yards every time he touches the ball; Rainey 6.8. And according to Carter, their potential is limitless.
"I told Jeff and Chris (this week) they have kind of a Tiger-Woodish deal," Carter said. "Because they are so fast, they are at another level than everybody else. So if they play at their level, they can really do some great things. But if they don't play at their level, then they are just average."
In a game where the teams are so evenly-matched, having the duo play at "their level" could be the difference between winning and losing for the Gators in today's rivalry game against Georgia.
Antonya English can be reached at English@sptimes.com.