GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As Florida faced fourth-and-inches from its own 47-yard line on its second offensive series Saturday, coach Jim McElwain passed the command along through his headset.
“Go for it,” he said.
Running back Lamical Perine converted, diving over the pile for a 3-yard gain to extend what would end up as Florida’s first touchdown drive in its 38-24 win over Vanderbilt.
But McElwain wasn’t done.
Late in the third quarter, Florida was staring at another fourth-and-1 from the Vanderbilt 39, and again the call came to go for it. Again, Perine converted, with a 4-yard pickup over the left guard this time to continue what would turn into another Gators touchdown drive.
In all, Florida was 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions Saturday against the Commodores, including Malik Davis’ game-sealing 39-yard touchdown scamper on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
“You know, I think we’ve done a pretty decent job of kind of knowing when we’re in those territories, you know those four-down territories. In other words, whether it’s going to be 3 [yards] or 2 or 1, and we’re going to to go for it, which allows you to maybe play-call a little bit different on second and third [down],” McElwain said. “But in those situations, look, I’ve got total trust and confidence in those guys, and we’re going to continue to do that. That’s just the way it’s going to be. They’re not going to come to the sideline. We’re going to go for it.”
It wasn’t just Saturday. The Gators were 3-for-4 on fourth downs the previous week at Kentucky and now rank tied for 15th nationally in fourth-down percentage at 7-for-9 overall (.778) this season.
As the offensive line and rushing attack in general have shown growth the last two weeks in particular, McElwain has reciprocated with confidence.
“I don’t think I’ve ever went for it that many times on fourth down ever,” Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “Coach Mac, man, he has nothing but confidence in our offense. It keeps on building and building and building. …
“It pumps us up. It pumps the offense up, man, knowing that he has that confidence in us. And then we have that confidence right back in him. We want to get it because he had the confidence in us. We want to get it for him and let that confidence keep on building and building and building. And then, you know, eventually we’re going to break the wall down, man. We’re going to be a really good team.”
McElwain commented after the game Saturday that he felt the offensive line “was starting to get it” and noted that he thought his team “wore on them pretty good” as the game progressed.
Florida rushed for 218 yards and 5 touchdowns overall against the Commodores.
The first two fourth-down conversions, in particular, were small contributors to that overall yardage total, but significantly pivotal moments for both the outcome of the game and the growth of this rushing attack.
“Really it just lets us know that he trusts us to make a play,” right tackle Jawaan Taylor said. “It paid off in the end.”
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