GAINESVILLE — UF coach Will Muschamp knew his staff wasn't wrong about tailback Matt Jones.
The key was to convince Jones to run like they knew he could.
"I pulled Matt in Monday and said, 'You need to cut it loose and play,'" Muschamp said after Florida's 24-7 win Saturday night at Kentucky. "'You're very tentative when you run it. You look like last year at the beginning of the year.'"
Jones, a sophomore, responded with a monster game in Lexington.
The Tampa native finished with a career-high 176 yards on 28 carries. Jones also chipped in three catches for 20 yards as he effectively served as a safety valve for quarterback Tyler Murphy in his first college start.
"It was a relief," Jones said of his performance.
Expected to be the team's featured back, Jones returned from a viral infection to deliver two sub-par performances. Against Miami and Tennessee, he averaged barely 3 yards on 32 touches (101 total yards) and had two fumbles, including one that set up the Hurricanes' first scoring drive during a 21-16 Gators loss.
"It takes some time. We all knew that," Muschamp said. "You don't ever want to admit it because Matt's a good player and a guy we're really counting on coming into the season. But when you miss a little over a month . . . it takes time to respond, especially with some of the physicality and holding onto the ball and that sort of stuff.
"Real proud of Matt."
Murphy's inexperience was a non-factor at Kentucky, other than an interception thrown in Jones' direction during the third quarter. Murphy, a redshirt junior who replaced injured starter Jeff Driskel, completed his first 13 passes and led Florida on a 13-play, 93-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
But rather than ask Murphy to carry the load, Muschamp would rather rely on a relentless running game and the SEC's top-ranked defense to win.
Jones did his part Saturday night.
"With the surge we were getting up front, why throw it?" Muschamp said after the game.
In his first game back at Miami, Jones managed more than three yards on just six of 18 carries. At Kentucky, Jones gained just two yards or fewer on five of his first six carries before he finally ripped off a 67-yard run.
Jones headed up the left sideline, cut back to the middle of the field and may have scored, but Gators wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, looking to make a block downfield, tripped up Jones at the Kentucky 13-yard line.
A week earlier, Dominique Easley tripped up fellow defensive tackle Darious Cumming during an interception return.
"It's a good problem to have," Muschamp said with a laugh when asked about his players running into each other. "It means we're getting the ball. We'll discuss that on the plane ride back.
"I know I'll get plenty of good suggestions, so that'll be good."
Another one-on-one chat with Jones, though, is not be on Muschamp's schedule.
"I was real timid, just not thinking too much," Jones said. "He put me into his office on Monday and said just turn it loose; mistakes are going to happen in this game. I took that into affect now.
"That's what I did."