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Florida can't run, so it can't pass

It is not simply quality linemen missing from Florida's offense in 1992.

It is the element of fear, as well.

Defenses are no longer frightened by Florida's running game. The fear of the run has been removed the past two games, and that has made UF's once-complex passing game much easier to solve.

"If there's no threat of a run, you can do a lot of things with coverage and the rush to shut down a passing game," said Tennessee defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, whose team limited Florida to 68 yards rushing in a 31-14 win Sept. 19.

"One of the first things people think of when they look at Florida is you have to get a good pass rush. That's important, but it can be even more important to stop their draw play."

The misconception of the past two years is that Florida's offense relied solely on passing to put record numbers on the board. Passing might have accounted for most of the yardage, but Florida's ability to run the ball is what made the offense so effective.

It was impossible for teams to put all-out rushes on quarterback Shane Matthews because a draw play could send the football and Errict Rhett charging in the opposite direction. Linebackers were frozen on play-action passes that looked like runs, and Matthews would complete passes beyond the linebackers and in front of the secondary.

But when Rhett suffered an ankle injury early in the Tennessee game _ and the Vols discovered Florida could not run effectively without him _ the defense concentrated solely on the pass.

Mississippi State picked up on the same theme last week and put as many as eight men in pass coverage, daring Florida to run the ball.

"I've got to find some plays to help us out we can't keep doing what we've been doing," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday. "Hopefully, we can run the ball better. That has always helped us in the past."

Evidence of Florida's plight is ample. The Gators' passing game is the best in the Southeastern Conference and ranks12th in the nation. But UF is last in the SEC in rushing offense, which accounts for the 1-2 record.

Since Spurrier's arrival, the Gators are 14-0 when they rush for more than 150 yards in a game and 6-6 when they rush for less.

"The whole key to our offense is keeping the defense off balance," tight end Greg Keller said. "When we can't run the ball, it's hard to do that. They rush two or three guys and drop eight or nine in coverage, and it makes it hard for Shane to throw the ball."

Matthews is still getting ample passing yardage _ he leads the SEC with close to 240 yards per game _ but excessive passing leads to excessive incompletions and interceptions.

"There's a big-time difference when you know another team can't run the ball. You never get tired playing against a one-dimensional team," UF linebacker Carlton Miles said. "Sooner or later, you're going to get an interception, and some of those passes are going to turn into sacks."

The absence of a running threat also could explain why Florida has had trouble coming from behind for wins in recent years. When the Gators fall behind, the running game sometimes must be abandoned, and the pass becomes less effective.

These days, Spurrier must feel like he's behind before the game begins. Rhett is still less than 100 percent, his backup is a true freshman, and the offensive line is struggling against tough SEC teams.

The need to make changes is obvious.

Last week, Spurrier used his tight end more as a blocker to help with protection. Now, he may spread out his offense to force the defense to spread the field, which could make it easier to run the football.

"We need to do some other things besides just dropping back and throwing the ball," Spurrier said. "That's obvious to everyone right now."