GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Every week, Malik Davis has seen his role expand in Florida’s offense.
It started with a lone carry in the season opener against Michigan, a 9-yard burst that was a missed tackle away from potentially being a big play. A month later, it’s evolved to the lead role of a three-man committee, culminating most recently with a 124-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Through four games, the 5-foot-11 running back from Tampa has rushed for a team-best 321 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He is the only SEC freshman with multiple carries of 30 yards this season, and his 7.42 yards per carry ranks fourth in the conference.
“He’s a natural,” linebacker David Reese said. “He’s smooth. He has great vision. He sees the hole and he hits it hard.”
And as his coaches and teammates see more of Davis, they realize that he’s just getting started.
“I mean, he’s not even scratching the surface yet on how good he can be,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said.
‘Welcome to the SEC’
When Malik Davis broke a tackle in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, all he saw was the end zone.
He saw opportunity. He saw himself making a statement in his first SEC game.
And then, he saw the ball get stripped out of his hands and roll out of the back of the end zone.
What should have been a 74-yard touchdown run — his first collegiate touchdown — turned into a missed opportunity.
Seider approached Davis in the locker room after the game to see how he was handling the fumble.
“When’s the last time you fumbled?” Seider asked the prideful running back.
“Tenth grade,” Davis responded before saying he broke off a big run on his next carry.
Seider upped the ante.
“When was the last time you were caught from behind?” Seider asked.
“I can’t remember,” Davis said.
“Welcome to the SEC,” Seider replied. “Everybody’s got speed.”
It was a reality check for Davis, who came in as an overlooked 3-star prospect despite finishing his prep career as the all-time leading rusher in Hillsborough County.
And it was a teaching opportunity for Seider, who knew that a confidence boost might be just enough to get the freshman back on track.
Seider said the play continued to haunt Davis over the next week.
At practice the following Thursday, Davis wasn’t performing like he had for the last two months.
Davis knew the plays, the scheme and the expectations. That’s why he saw the field in the first two games, even if he had only 5 total touches.
But Seider knew something was still bothering the freshman.
“Coach, man, I was still thinking about that play,” Seider remembered Davis telling him.
Seider told Davis to shake off the play — it was going to be just one of many in his career.
What Davis needed to focus on was the present, Seider said.
And the present included a chance for an expanded role if he stayed committed to improving.
“He carries that chip on his shoulder,” Seider said. “Not in a negative way, in a positive way that helps keep him motivated.”
If that isn’t motivation enough, Davis’ production the last two weeks should have done the job.
Davis had 11 carries for 53 yards on Florida’s two fourth-quarter touchdown drives against Kentucky, including a 7-yard scamper on fourth-and-1 on the final drive. That set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Swain three plays later.
“At first I was nervous to put him in,” Seider said. “When he got in, he just played his tail off.”
One week later, Davis posted a career-high 124 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns in Florida’s 38-24 win over Vanderbilt. He sealed the win with a 39-yard touchdown run with just under 2 minutes left in the game.
“I’m sure that Tennessee rep came back into his mind,” Seider said, “like ‘I’m not going to be denied. I was going to score any way possible.’ ”
Continuing to improve
Offensive lineman Brett Heggie saw Davis’ potential almost immediately. The running back’s athleticism and shiftiness with the ball in his hands were on full display during summer workouts.
The season was still more than a month away at that point, but Heggie saw that Davis could make an immediate impact.
“He’s proved that to everybody,” Heggie said, “and I think he’s gonna continue to prove that.”
Davis’ role — like the rest of Florida’s running backs — expanded when Jordan Scarlett was suspended along with eight other players before the season opener while the University of Florida Police Department investigated alleged credit card fraud. All nine of those players are still away from the team as the State Attorney’s Office reviews the case.
Prior to the suspension, it was hard to predict just how much playing time Davis would get. He entered fall camp fourth on the depth chart behind Scarlett and fellow returners Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson.
But Davis has shown up and turned heads. Of his 43 carries this season, only one has gone for negative yardage.
Seider praised Davis’ football IQ and his knack for absorbing new information each day in practice.
“He picked things up and it carries to the field,” Seider said. “You don’t have to tell him twice a lot of the times. For a freshman, especially the type of offense we carry here, you gotta be able to retain some things … you gotta be able to carry it over to the field. You gotta be able to think on your feet and he does a great job of doing that.”
With that mindset and his physical skill set, Seider sees a bright future for Davis.
“He’s about as natural as you will see running with the ball,” Seider said. “No wasted movement. Putting his foot in the ground, getting upfield, getting vertical, making the first guy miss. … You can’t coach that. Some people got it and some people don’t.”
The post Florida freshman RB Malik Davis ‘not even scratching the surface yet’ appeared first on SEC Country.
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