Image Credit: ESPNI
Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the team ahead of his team’s Friday scrimmage, its last before gathering for the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut spring game in a week.
He touched on a number of topics during the 20-minute availability including the heath of some Gators, what it actually means to “win” first down and how early enrollees can make an immediate impact for Florida in 2016.
First down is underrated: McElwain spoke early Friday about Florida concentrating on “winning” first down during its upcoming scrimmage. It’s a notion that has been shared by coaches for years, but McElwain took the time out to break down what exactly “winning” the down means to him on each side of the ball.
“In a perfect world, you’d like to be able to get four-and-a-half to five [yards] offensively; defensively, you’d like to be under two [yards],” he said.
McElwain went on to explain that success rates and data points show that gaining four or five yards on first down more frequently result in the continuation of the drive and therefore additional scoring opportunities. Conversely, holding an opponent to two or fewer yards on first down puts the other team in a tough spot.
“It’s an important down that sometimes gets lost. I know as a play caller, being in that second medium-to-short, you’re kind of holding the cards now. When you’re in that second-and-long situation, you’re a little bit more predictable,” he said.
The Gators use “winning” first down as a means of teaching how instrumental situational success can be to a team winning games. “[There’s] a lot of emphasis on third down, should be, but you can help yourself on third down with the emphasis on first down,” he explained. “It goes back to, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on, just win this down.’ That’s the mentality that great teams have.”
Why at night? Historically, the Orange & Blue Debut has been a Saturday afternoon affair. But nothing with the spring game has been that traditional over the last few seasons, especially with roster depth and injuries forcing Florida into glorified practices and strange formats.
While McElwain said the specific format and manner of splitting teams has not been decided, he did promise that “it’s going to be football; it’s not going to be a practice.” He also provided some reasoning as to why he moved the game to a Friday night.
“We open the season usually at night. [Shrugs] I try to simulate as many of those things as we can so the preparation piece, it’s another learning experience going into something which you’ll have at that time. As you know, during the fall, we try to do different practices at different times simply to prepare you for the different times you’re going to play during the day,” he began before really getting to the crux of the decision.
“Getting people here for a night atmosphere in The Swamp I think is fantastic and a lot of fun. And it also allows us a good Saturday with a lot of the recruits that are coming in to spend quality time with them showing them the campus, all the new things that we have facility-wise and they can get a good chance to kind of get through that without the game [distraction], which will be done the night before.”
Separating the spring game from the big recruiting day is a smart move. Though that means some recruits will likely be unable to attend the game with it being just a couple hours after school gets out, it also allows the coaching staff to spend even more one-on-one time with them the following day.
Kicking into gear: Redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro is arguably UF’s most important early enrollee considering how poor the Gators’ kicking game was a year ago. And while he’s impressed fans with his astonishing kicks shared via social media, he still has a long way to go to being game ready.
McElwain has praised Pineiro throughout spring practice and been impressed with his improvement in operation time and success putting the ball through the uprights. That said, he’s glad that Pineiro will be under some actual pressure next Friday when he takes the field for the spring game. “We’ve got to see Eddy kick in front of people and not on his YouTube,” McElwain joked. “This is kind of an important deal there.”
Pineiro, who has never kicked a field goal in a live game and has attempted nary an extra point since high school, has seen a lot thrown at him in practice. So far so good, per McElwain.
“I kind of like the guy’s demeanor. You kind of tell him, ‘Hey, we’re going to put you in some pressure situations today.’ He just smiles and shakes his head and says, ‘I can’t wait.’ He’s missed a couple, and I’m kind of glad to see that because he doesn’t let it affect him,” the coach shared. “As much as we can put him in some of those situations [is good]. Who knows? As much as we can do in The Swamp, obviously the Friday night piece from the simulation, I think all of that helps not only him but a lot of guys.”
Early impact: Speaking of Pineiro and his ilk, McElwain expects a number of the team’s other early enrollees to make an immediate impact for the Gators this fall. He cites the practice reps as being a major reason but notes that it does not stop there.
“I look at it a couple different ways. Obviously, their maturation as a football player, but think of it this way, they’re a whole semester ahead towards graduation. That to me is the most powerful thing because, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do – make sure they get a degree. That puts them ahead of the curve a little bit, and I think that gets lost in translation. It’s not just the playing piece,” he began.
“Now, as they come in, they’re now veterans, so it isn’t new to them. It’s just keep polishing. It puts ahead their opportunity to play quicker because of their experience. Which one of those guys [will play]? That remains to be seen. As you know where some of the depth is, there’s going to be guys pushed into service a little bit earlier.”
Notes and bits:
» With both senior Ahmad Fulwood and junior transfer Dre Massey suffering leg injuries, freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain received a number of additional reps as of late. McElwain said he is “really happy” with both youngsters but noted that Massey has already returned and Fulwood is on his way back from injury. The coach also said redshirt junior Alvin Bailey has put forth a great effort as of late and was set to “get a lot of reps” during Friday’s scrimmage.
» Redshirt junior center Cameron Dillard returned to action after suffering a broken nose, though junior offensive tackle David Sharpe was scheduled to sit out the scrimmage with a minor leg injury.
» On senior linebacker Alex Anzalone, who is recovering from a shoulder injury: “He’s been in on all non-contact drills. He’s been doing great. Excited he’s back and hopefully he can hold up.”
» McElwain singled out sophomore Keivonnis Davis and redshirt freshmen Jabari Zuniga and Luke Ancrum as defensive linemen who “will all play a lot” this season. Of Davis specifically, McElwain continued his spring-long praise of the youngster by saying he’s continued to make huge strides.