“There was some good. There was some ugly. There was some bad,” said head coach Jim McElwain on Monday.
Yeah, that’s a pretty fair and succinct way of evaluating the Florida Gators‘ performance in their 24-7 win over UMass on Saturday.
“We have to grow up and grow up soon. I’m looking forward to that transformation going into this ballgame,” he continued.
So far so good. To use a parlance McElwain would enjoy, he’s hit both his free throws. Let’s see if he can drain the mid-range jumper.
“We need to increase our explosive plays.”
For the Gators, which had a long play of 26 yards on Saturday via a catch-and-run by sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell, lack of explosive plays have been an issue for years. One big reason for that has been the talent on and play of Florida’s offensive line, which once again failed to live up to expectations over the weekend.
“We’ve got to challenge our guys up front to control the line of scrimmage a little bit,” McElwain said. “This is a lot bigger team front-wise that we’ll play this week. My challenge to the guys up front is not only do your job and do your assignment but let’s do it at a high tempo and an energy to create some spark offensively.”
McElwain thought the line played fine in terms of effort and maintaining its assignments. The issue was the “energy and body language.” He wants the linemen ready to go the same time as the rest of the offense so the Gators can use tempo to their advantage, particularly when rolling with momentum down the field.
“We got to clean that piece up and make sure we keep the sheet clean. We got to make sure we secure the pocket,” McElwain added. “Even in their five-man pressure stuff, when we had it picked up, Luke [Del Rio was completing passes] at a 78 percent clip. What that tell you is, pretty clean pocket he’s going to get his feet set and get it where it needs to go. When we were on edge and we had to move it a little bit, he did a good job of moving in the pocket but missed a couple throws because of that. Those are things the whole team has to take accountability for.”
Del Rio played “alright” overall, according to McElwain, who counted six throws the redshirt sophomore quarterback regrets and four clear drops by pass catchers.
“He was good as far as not taking sacks; he did a good job of that. Threw it to our color jersey and was pretty efficient. For a first start, literally got his feet wet, I thought played pretty darn good,” the coach explained. “A couple times, he maybe cut it loose a little quick, had more time but was maybe a little anxious. … Now it’s just the progression of how you go about your daily work. I know he’ll do that. There was never a sense of panic. … Now we got to produce more points when we’re down in the red area.”
McElwain expressed that he was pleased the entire offense was calm and confident even as it was struggling at times.
Despite all that, Florida showed it has plenty of ways in which it can improve before it hosts the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Whether the Gators can make those strides this week, after having an entire offseason do it prior to the opener, is certainly in question.
In addition to confirming that junior transfer wide receiver Dre Massey (knee) was indeed out for the season, McElwain announced that senior linebacker Daniel McMillian played on a badly sprained ankle that was later determined to be of the high-ankle variety. He will sit out the Kentucky game and possibly longer.
Due to Florida’s insanely thin depth at linebacker, one of two rather inexperienced players will step into the starting 11 with the other seeing plenty of action. Freshman Jeremiah Moon was listed behind McMillian on the Week 2 depth chart, and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson should see some snaps as well.
Junior WR C.J. Worton, dealing with a high-ankle sprain of his own, remains questionable for the game. “We’ll see. Time will tell on that,” McElwain said.
On the suspension front, at least four of the five players missing in action against UMass will be back. Junior cornerback Jalen Tabor, redshirt sophomore tight end C’yontai Lewis and freshmen wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells have all been reinstated.
» Though sophomore Jordan Scarlett has not been named the clear-cut starter, he did average 5.7 yards per carry against UMass and impressed McElwain with his play. “[He] showed up a little bit, did a great job in pass protection as well,” said McElwain, who noted that Scarlett saw extra work Saturday because there were more outside run opportunities. The competition continues.
» The return of Powell “energized our team offensively,” said McElwain. Powell has always been an important player for the Gators’ offense, as it is much more effective when he’s active. With the loss of Massey, Powell becomes even more important than he already was for Florida.
» Speaking of Massey, the Gators are still figuring out how to replace him. McElwain admitted that Florida had a package of plays for Massey, one of which — a Wildcat run — was executed Saturday by sophomore RB Jordan Cronkrite. The two additional freshman wideouts being reinstated provides some additional competition for Massey’s touches. Furthermore, McElwain expects that UF will use more two-running back packages with Massey not able to be on the field.
» Senior WR Ahmad Fulwood appears to be headed for another season in which he sees plenty of action but a relatively light stat sheet. That’s not to take away from his contributions, though. “Ahmad Fulwood, I just can’t tell you how hard he played. And as a senior doing not only what he does as a wideout but on every special team. He’s a guy I was really excited how he came into the game and played the game and showed up on video,” praised McElwain.
» While redshirt junior LB Alex Anzalone and senior LB Jarrad Davis got their just dues, McElwain also pointed out redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Khairi Clark as having a big game Saturday. “I thought [he] played his tail off and was our player of the game,” the coach said. “What he did to hold point, maintain his gap control and not peak — in a game like that where they were running the lead fullback and that kind of stuff — I thought he really played well for us defensively.”
» McElwain on Florida’s 26-game winning streak over Kentucky: “It’s there. … Last year, we had to play our tails off against these guys. Those streak things, it’s something to write about, but every year is different.”