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Halapio Returns To Fix Florida's Run Game

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Star guard Jon Halapio returns from a torn pectoral muscle and could revive Florida's power run game. The Gators' guards have been too slow pulling as lead blockers in Halapio's absence. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images.
Star guard Jon Halapio returns from a torn pectoral muscle and could revive Florida's power run game. The Gators' guards have been too slow pulling as lead blockers in Halapio's absence. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images.

The Florida Gators want to be the type of team that leaves opposing defenses sucking wind on the sideline, nursing injuries from the physical play of the offensive line and running backs. Florida did not live up to that identity in its last game against the Miami Hurricanes. But the Gators get star offensive lineman Jon Halapio back from a torn pectoral muscle this week against Tennessee. The decorated junior guard will look to solidify an offensive line coming off of an underwhelming performance against Miami.  

While the Florida offensive line manhandled the Toledo Rockets, they struggled to open up holes between the tackles against the bigger and faster Hurricanes' defense. Through two games, running back Mack Brown was able to find success outside the tackles, but runs inside proved futile. The only big gains up the middle came from zone blocking by the line. However, power running is coordinator Brent Pease's bread and butter and the Florida guards have been too slow to pull across the line of scrimmage and open up holes. 

Halapio's absence no doubt has exasperated that trend. The lack of power runs has limited Florida's time of possession, placed quarterback Jeff Driskel in challenging third-and-long situations and severely limited the effectiveness of Pease's beloved play-action passing. If one man can fix these woes, it's Halapio. The guard is 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds of gliding fury. Halapio will be able to pull across the line, hit a linebacker and open up holes on the second level for long runs.   

Consider this your early Christmas present, Matt Jones. Jones struggled in his first game back from a viral infection, lacking the burst and punishment that normally comes with his running. But Jones said he is back to full health and will be happy to see his running mate opening lanes for him against Tennessee. We will see on Saturday if Jones' strength is back and is able to return to form.   

Look for a blend of Jones and Brown against the Volunteers. Jones will start and get a chance to prove his health and effectiveness. The coaching staff hopes Jones is back to his old self, plowing through defensive backs and churning out first downs. If he struggles, the coaching staff will be quick to insert Brown. Brown has done well subbing for Jones and has earned the trust of the offense.

Brown's success has been a pleasant bonus, but more effective line play and a healthy Jones would mean the return of the ball-control offense that coach Will Muschamp desires. If Halapio can open up holes on the second level, and Florida can run for first downs, the Gators will look more like the team that stretched leads in the fourth quarter and won 11 games last season.