In the hours after a 26-3 victory over Miami two weeks ago, Florida running back Emmanuel Moody received more than 40 calls and 50 text messages from friends and family members.
The Gator running backs had totaled 7 yards on the ground, and Moody hadn't played.
One relative's text was blunt: "Hey, pack your bags and start preaching," referring to Moody's potential future profession.
Moody, a 21-year-old touted transfer from Southern Cal, isn't ready to pack it in, and the redshirt sophomore and the Gators realize that if ever there was a time to get their inconsistent running game going, it's now.
No. 4 Florida (2-0) plays at Tennessee (1-1) today, continuing an SEC series in which a solid running game has been a key to victory more often than not.
"I feel like we're still trying to really establish a prominent running game right now," Moody said. "(Against) Hawaii, I felt like we had a good rushing attack, and Miami did a good job with defense, blocking the gaps and filling the gaps. I think we're going to run the ball more this game and really try to establish the run against Tennessee."
In 16 of the past 18 UF-UT meetings, the team that has rushed for more yards has won.
"I think we're going to be able to do what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to win," first-year running backs coach Kenny Carter said. "If we are productive in the way we think we will be, then we'll be okay."
Florida is eighth in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 172 yards (it got 255 in the opener vs. Hawaii). Of its 344 total yards, 178 are from its true running backs, despite high expectations this season with the 6-foot, 210-pound Moody, freshman Jeff Demps and redshirt freshman Chris Rainey joining senior Kestahn Moore.
"I think it's just how teams are playing us this year," said receiver/running back Percy Harvin of the team's inconsistent attack. "Now teams are playing deep and just plugging the holes to stop the (quarterback Tim) Tebow runs. So I think we've just got to spread it out, start running a lot more options and just throw the ball downfield."
The Vols are ninth in the SEC in pass defense, so if the Gators can establish the run early, their passing could be more effective.
"We've worked on executing (the run)," said Tebow, who has 92 yards on 22 carries. "You watch the film of the Miami game and it wasn't like we were getting beat off of blocks. It wasn't like they were handling any of our linemen. It was just we had some missed assignments with someone not picking up the right guy. Sometimes we didn't hit the exact right hole. Those are just the little things, and we just can't have those little mistakes. … It is something we've got to get a lot better on."
Carter knows the perception is that the Florida running game is struggling, but he begs to differ.
"The biggest thing that comes into play with running backs and what the general public hangs their hat on, everybody wants to equate production in how many times you touch the ball, and that's far from the truth," he said. "If you're productive when you touch the ball, that's what you're supposed to do. But what you do without the ball is as important as what you do with the ball."
Coach Urban Meyer said he expects better production from the running backs today, including Moody, who is still adapting to a system that's different from the one to which he's accustomed.
"He's done really well," Carter said. "It's tough to transition from one (place) to another. We go at a different pace here than most people. And that's something to adjust yourself to, especially when you're not in an active situation for almost a year. He's done a really good job adjusting to that. We're looking forward to seeing him do some things."
Moody has been told he'll have a bigger role today in a game with significant conference implications, but he said he feels no pressure.
"I still have confidence in what I can do, and if I keep working hard, I feel like I can be that guy that everyone's kind of expecting," Moody said.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.
Today's state games
No. 4 Florida at Tennessee
3:30, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville
Records: Florida 2-0, Tennessee 1-1
TV/radio: Ch. 10; 620-AM
Line: Florida by 71/2
Weather: 81 degrees, partly cloudy
No. 24 FSU vs. No. 18 Wake Forest
7, Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee
Records: FSU 2-0, Wake Forest 2-0
TV/radio: ESPN2; 1040-AM
Line: FSU by 41/2
Weather: 87 degrees, partly cloudy
No. 12 USF at Fla. International
5, FIU Stadium, Miami
Records: USF 3-0, FIU 0-2
TV/radio: ESPNU; 970-AM
Line: USF by 281/2
Weather: 87 degrees, scattered thunderstorms