No. 18 Florida playing keep-away with opponents
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 18 Florida is methodical, deliberate, calculated and predictable. Some might even say the Gators are boring to watch.
They're running the football nearly 70 percent of the time this season, an effort to wear down opponents, keep the clock ticking and conserve their defense.
It's old-school football -- simple, keep-away philosophy -- and the Gators (3-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) are playing it at a fairly high level.
Florida leads the nation in time of possession, holding the ball on average for 38 minutes, 58 seconds a game. That's two and a half minutes more than the next closest team and about 15 minutes more than high-powered and fast-paced Oregon.
Coach Will Muschamp firmly believes in the slow-it-down formula -- especially with a stout defense and an experienced quarterback.
"Good from the standpoint that their offense isn't on the field," Muschamp said. "But there's no direct relation to winning football games on ball possession."
Maybe not, but it seems to be working for Florida.
The Gators rank second in the nation in total defense and lead the SEC in eight defensive categories, including scoring and third-down conversions. With that kind of defense, it's really more about the offense not messing things up. That happened at Miami last month, when Florida had five turnovers in a 21-16 loss.
The Gators have been considerably better since.
Tyler Murphy, who replaced injured starter Jeff Driskel (broken leg), has completed 72 percent of his passes for 290 yards, with two touchdowns, an interception and just one sack. Although Florida ranks last in the league in attempts and passing yards, the team is first in completion percentage.
And the Gators are averaging more than 211 yards a game on the ground. Matt Jones, who missed part of fall practice while recovering from a viral infection, had just 30 carries for 96 yards in his first two games and fumbled in each. He ran 28 times for 176 yards in last week's 24-7 victory at Kentucky.
"To say that we're always going to carry it, have that time of possession, is probably not our total plan," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "I think you feel comfortable in doing that. You've got a lot of good things going.
"But sometimes you still stress that you want to have explosive plays and you hope you get those where you're scoring in two or three, which limits your time of possession. That wasn't the way it worked out (against Kentucky). So I think there's some give and take in it."
Florida doesn't anticipate changing things up Saturday night against Arkansas (3-2, 0-1), which ranks fifth in the league against the run.
With Jones looking like he's fully healthy, a veteran offensive line in front of him and Murphy making just his second career start, the Gators probably prefer to keep things on the ground.
The only drawback has been defensive players complaining about getting bored on the sideline as Florida stays on the field and milks the clock.
"Obviously, you want to play more," safety Jaylen Watkins said. "But if the offense can take care of the ball and play keep-away all day, that's great. But it's kind of bittersweet sometimes when you're just kind of sitting on the bench, just sitting around watching and waiting all the time. But that's the type of football we play."
And the type of football Florida will continue to play, especially if it keeps working.
As far as Watkins' boredom -- as well as any lulls for teammates and fans?
"That's a problem he is going to have to deal with hopefully for the rest of the season," Murphy said.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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