It did not take more than a couple series on Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, to make it obvious that the Florida Gators (1-0) would run roughshod over the New Mexico State Aggies (0-1) in the teams’ season opener at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Gators had little issue scoring in the contest, like they did against Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky a year ago, but Florida’s offense was being New Mexico State through more than pure athleticism but rather scheme, confidence and efficiency. That put a big smile on the face of new head coach Jim McElwain, who met with the media after the game to offer some praise and criticism for his squad following its first game of the 2015 campaign.
But first, the fans…
Before McElwain praised his team for its tremendous performance, he singled out the crowd and expressed how impressed he was during his first real game in The Swamp. He returned to touch on that subject a second time in his presser.
“What a great environment, the fans coming out: Boy, they energized the guys. That was a great, great crowd for a great opener,” he said. “The fans, man, were awesome; they were into it. What I liked is they were knowledgeable; they knew when to kind of get going. That part was really good.”
Effortful and (nearly) mistake-free
McElwain spoke at length during the spring and fall about his players not being afraid to give their full effort and make a big play. He also stressed attention to detail from the Gators, not only in their routes and schemes but regarding discipline as well. In other words, Florida can be aggressive on both sides of the ball without committing procedural penalties or breaking rules, things that stung the team often under Will Muschamp, who usually shrugged off such things.
On Saturday, the Gators were only tagged for a single penalty despite committing three (one was offsetting, another was declined); to be fair, the Aggies only got hit with one also. Still, he was pleased to see how Florida approached the contest from top to bottom.
“The one thing I was most proud of is the way we played the game. We played the game fast, physical, but we played it clean. I think we had one penalty and it came with about three minutes to go in the game. That showed me a lot. It showed me our guys are listening, our guys are understanding the investment they make in themselves to not do things to hurt their teammates. I was really proud of that,” he said.
Because the Gators bought in, paid attention to detail and saw success doing so, McElwain plans to use parts of the film as teachable moments to prove to them that the methods the coaching staff is trying to employ actually work.
Tight ends and running backs shine
After combining for 30 receptions, 279 yards and three touchdowns from 2013-14, Florida’s tight ends basically split those figures in half on Saturday, combining to hauling in seven passes for 100 yards and two scores. Redshirt freshman C’yontai Lewis (2 receptions, 44 yards, 2 TD), sophomore DeAndre Goolsby (3 receptions, 38 yards) and redshirt senior Jake McGee (2 receptions, 18 yards) each contributed, and as McElwain said, “They didn’t disappoint.”
From the beginning of the offseason, McElwain stressed that he likes to take advantage of the matchups tight ends provide by using them in multiple formations and shifts, creating a number of options that can put the numbers on Florida’s side. He praised all three players at times, and it was obvious on Saturday that he meant what he said.
Similarly, though McElwain had criticized junior running back Kelvin Taylor for his happy feet in the past, he began throwing some praise his way toward the latter stages of fall camp. Taylor had himself a day, averaging 6.8 yards per carry for 54 yards and a touchdown, but he also contributed in the passing game with a long 43-yard reception and net total of 41 yards.
“I think we have some guys there, and that’s a good thing,” McElwain said of the running back position. “I was happy with the way [Taylor] hit it up inside; he didn’t try to bounce things, which he had the tendency to do. For the most part, he was sticking it when he saw it. Instead of trying to beat somebody outside, he was sticking his foot and getting upfield. I thought that was really, really good. I thought he ran behind his pads extremely well. And yet, the other two guys I thought showed pretty well, too.”
Freshmen Jordan Scarlett (8 carries, 34 yards) and Jordan Cronkrite (5 carries, 26 yards) each found pay dirt as well in the contest and flashed some ability The Gators may well have their deepest running backs corps in quite some time.
OK, fine, the quarterbacks were good, too
Taking a deeper look at the quarterback play was the primary portion of the new Quick Hits postgame breakdown here on OnlyGators.com, but let’s take a look at what McElwain had to say about the play of sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier.
“For the most part, the quarterbacks were kind of at the right spot; you’ll see a couple they missed, and yet, both guys I thought played really well,” he began. “I thought they both did a great job. They really did. We moved the ball with both of them. It’ll be interesting to see, when we get to the film. I thought the whole team responded well to both of them. … I thought for the most part both of them did a pretty darn good job. I’m glad we have both of them.”
McElwain said his plan was to have each quarterback start a half, which is why Harris got three series (12-15 throws) before Grier came in for the same amount of series to end the opening 30 minutes. As part of his action, Grier also had the opportunity to execute a two-minute drill, which he did to the tune of a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown.
“As it turned out, I was really glad the offense was able to execute a two-minute drive. That I think was pretty good, it was pretty crisp. Guys handled it the way we expect it, and that was good,” he said.
Grier then continued out of halftime as the second-half starter with Harris ending the game in a similar role to Grier’s in the first half (before redshirt senior transfer Josh Grady got some action, of course).
The one real negative in the passing game? The communication between the sideline and the quarterbacks, according to McElwain. “It really pissed me off, to be honest with you. That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We got to get that right next week.”
Notes and bits
» McElwain on the defense: “We’ve got a long ways to go as a ball squad. I thought defensively, we kind of let them off the hook there a little bit right before half. … We had a couple busts in communication, which is what we’ve talked about since we got here, is the importance of that. … The key for us is, what did we do after one of those [long completions]? We didn’t hang our heads, we didn’t argue with each other. We clapped it off and won the next play. Each play has a history and life on its own. Go win that play. When it’s over, it’s over. That’s it. Go do the next one. I thought our guys did a real good job of that.”
» McElwain on special teams: “Really disappointed in the special teams as far as that [point after touchdown] block we had. That’s unacceptable. We got to get a little better in our communication there. We got lazy a bit on kickoff cover. When our kicker was putting it through the end zone, well, he doesn’t every time. There’s some things we got to shore up there. We’ve got to make kickoff return a weapon for us.”
» The Gators rotated 8-9 offensive linemen, whom McElwain thought “did a pretty good job” all things considered. He blamed Grier’s second-quarter fumble on protection.
» Florida improved to 2-0 all-time against New Mexico State and 10-1 against Sun Belt opponents.
» The Gators won their 26th consecutive season opener on Saturday and now have the longest active streak in the nation considering Nebraska fell to BYU earlier in the day.
» Florida is 82-27 all-time in season kick-off games, 67-7 in Gainesville and 62-4 in The Swamp.
» The Gators played nine true freshmen on Saturday.
» McElwain on starting redshirt sophomore Jordan Sherit at the RUSH defensive end spot: “We’ve got a lot of guys there on defense and a lot of those guys split reps. He’s a guy that had a fantastic camp for us. He’s a guy that does an excellent job of doing what he’s asked and being disciplined. I think he showed up today, obviously. That’s a good thing.”
» McElwain on sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor, who led the team with five tackles and two pass breakups: “We got some good secondary players, man. The thing I love about Jalen is just the way he competes and loves to play the game. He’s a guy that’s going to be involved wherever there’s action. He did a couple really good things as far as some outside stuff that broke, he was able to break on it and get it brought down as well. Good overall performance.”
» McElwain on throwing the ballot junior CB Vernon Hargreaves III: “Dynamic playmakers. We need to get the ball in their hands. We need to find guys and continue to do that. We got some things for him, and you know what, he’s a weapon. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
» Redshirt freshman RUSH Justus Reed led the team with two sacks.
» Florida finished 8-for-8 in the red zone.
» The Gators committed only a single penalty in a game for the first time since 1977.