Florida Gators vs. East Carolina rewind: An eerie flashback to the last regime

By Adam Silverstein
September 13, 2015

Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain was all smiles after his team’s season opener last week. Suffice to say his mood did a complete 180 once Florida got off the field against East Carolina, the only true positive coming out of the game being that the Gators’ record improved to 2-0.

Florida took down ECU 31-24 on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, but aside from the score, the Gators could easily chalk their performance up to a loss. And not just a normal loss but one that was caused by all-too-common mistakes during the previous regime led by ex-coach Will Muschamp.

Penalties: One week after being praised for playing the game the “right way” with a clean box score, Florida was rightly admonished by McElwain for committing 12 penalties, including two unsportsmanlike conduct calls and a boneheaded running into the kicker penalty that turned a change of possession into a scoring drive for the visitors. Sound familiar?

The Gators regularly shot themselves in the feet by being undisciplined under Muschamp. He chalked that up to rough play, but McElwain has made it clear that he will not stand for playing football in that manner. “It’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore,” McElwain began during his post-game press conference. “Over the last 10 years, the most penalized team in the league – in the country. It’s not going to happen, and we’ve got to learn. And it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing to our administration, our university … and it almost came back to bite us in the end.”

McElwain was incensed, as one would expect, during and after the game. As if the team’s play on the field was not enough of a reminder of what went down under the last coaching staff, his screaming fit at junior running back Kelvin Taylor and demonstrative post-game media availability were definite flashbacks.

A blown opportunity: McElwain ran the first-half quarterback rotation just like he did in the opener, but flipped: redshirt freshman Will Grier started the game and threw about 10-12 passes before sophomore Treon Harris replaced him and finished out the half. What changed was McElwain’s decision coming out of halftime, when he gave Grier the opportunity to return to the field as the starter, a change of pace from last week and clear sign that some progress had been made in the battle.

Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Grier faltered. He was short on a throw, had another pass bobbled by a receiver and intercepted (not Grier’s fault but still an interception on his stat line) and threw three more passes that were potential picks, two of which were straight drops by the Pirates’ defense. (Eerily similar problems that plagued the a recent UF starting quarterback.) As a result, Harris (who appeared to be done for the night) returned to the game. Though Harris was far from electric and once again proved his ceiling is much lower than Grier’s, he was calm behind center and did not have any instances of potential turnovers.

A decision that appeared to be on its way to being made Saturday now remains up in the air. Of course, McElwain could also choose to end the indecision and go with one or the other on Saturday at Kentucky. Whereas that may have been an easy choice for him at halftime of the game, it is now quite a difficult one.

Kick in the shins: Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin (and his much-stronger leg) had been widely praised by McElwain after nailing two field goals against New Mexico State and booming kickoffs through the end zone and off the uprights. Hardin looked poised to continue his success Saturday when he started the game with a make from 37 yards, but he faltered in a major way with consecutive misses from 34 and 35 yards out. It even got to a point that McELwain lost so much faith in Hardin he decided to go for a short fourth down rather than kick a field goal and increase his lead.

The kicking game was a major issue for Florida under Muschamp, and while a complete turnaround could not have been expected with the same personnel, the special teams struggles – including poor coverage on kickoff and punt returns – hearkened back to issues from the prior regime.

Line of fire: The Gators’ offensive line was absolutely blown up by the Pirates’ defensive front, which picked up two sacks and five tackles for loss on Saturday. Florida’s unit – known to be lacking depth entering the season after being depleted by graduations, NFL departures and uneven recruiting – was exposed by East Carolina after looking more than adequate against New Mexico State. Such was to be expected against a better, more talented opponent, but the extreme was apparent even though McElwain claimed UF was ready for everything ECU threw at them. “It’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to run. And their D-line took it to us. … It was ridiculous,” he said.

But the defense… As much as the Gators struggled on both sides of the ball – yes, there were defensive issues as well – Florida got itself out of jams with its more physical and talented defense, just like last season. There were three sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries, three registered forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and seven pass breakups on the night. The Gators hit hard and often and asserted their dominance when necessary. Florida bent but did not completely break. The defense’s play still would not have been good enough against a better opponent, but for the night in question it was more than adequate.

Notes and bits

» Redshirt junior defensive back Marcus Maye perfectly summed up Florida’s issue entering Saturday’s game. “It just felt good to be back like scoring points and everything. So I guess we kind of got on our high horse. This week kind of brought us back down.”

» Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis on his game-ending tackle … of redshirt junior LB Alex McCalister: “You never know what could happen. … It’s situational: We got the lead, the game is over, he could score easily but we’ve just been harping on going down in those type of situations. Seal the game, let the offense come out and do the victory, and we can go strike the band up, everybody go home with the W.”

» Just one week after 14 players (eight wide receivers, three tight ends) caught passes, Florida’s signal callers only connected with six pass catchers (three receivers).

» Florida is now 37-4 in the month of September since 2005.

» The Gators are now 3-0 all-time against the Pirates.

» Florida is now 167-16 since 1990 against unranked opponents.

» The Gators’ defense has now forced 400 turnovers since 2000, most in the SEC during that time period.


  1. Iamtheeggman says:

    I thought you would say the Gators are exactly where they were last year at this time. Both teams had an offensive explosion against a patsy to open the year, and that led folks to believe UF was better on offense. Both teams barely escaped losing at home the following week to a, supposedly, greatly inferior team. The secondary was again less than stellar. UF still has a problem at quarterback. UF still has a raving lunatic on the sidelines.
    The question is whether UF will become a better team than last year, about the same, or worse. I think McElwain needs to pick a starter at quarterback now. Grier may have a higher ceiling, but he might also be a guy that’s more likely to make mistakes to get you beat. For that reason, especially going into a hostile environment against a coach, Bob Stoops, who will probably have something devised to confuse UF’s young quarterbacks, I think Treon Harris should be named the starter.
    The simple reason is that I think he is less likely to get you beat and UF needs to have a threat running the ball. I haven’t seen anything from Taylor that makes me think he’s any different, which is average at best.
    I don’t know about McElwain, though. He put on a display on the sideline that was more embarrassing than anything Muschamp did. His act after UF’s first touchdown was taken off the board was almost comical. You can’t be blocking a payer downfield when the ball is in the air, and McGee was clearly doing that. I just wonder if he remembers why he has the job in the first place? He’s not in Gainesville because the Gators were a great team that only needed better coaching. I just wonder what he’s going to act like when UF faces real adversity, which is called losing. I hear the “participation ribbon…” and understand that, but you also have to realize that you don’t have the players at Alabama, FSU, etc. UF is not going to out personnel any good teams until they get better players. I just hope McElwain learns a concept called perspective. if, three years from now, UF is still struggling at home against a 20 point underdog, then you can act like a lunatic. But right now, as Dirty Harry said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    • Ryan D. says:

      First of all he is not a “raving lunatic” he thinks of these student-athletes as his kids so he was showing his frustrations for something that could have been avoided. It put the Gators in situation that was not needed, it was discipline. He took care of it right then and there and that’s exactly what some of these players need. We saw a different side to coach but I for one liked it because he is transparent and not being political about what is really going on in the locker room and in practice.
      You have your opinion but it’s the second game and we have a long way to go so relax. It’s a different regime and last year I would have thought we would have lost that game but I actually wasn’t worried about Saturday night. It was interesting to see how we would finish and next week against Kentucky you will see a different team.

      • Buster says:

        It was a bad bad look and he was a raving lunatic. No one deserves to be treated like that.

        There are more respectful ways to get your point across like just benching him. Hopefully Coach Mac is the one who learned his lesson from the experience. That stuff might fly under the radar at Colorado St or when you are a coordinator, but it won’t here.

        Honestly it was pretty disgraceful.

        With that said. I’m actually not down on the Gators. They outplayed ECU. Could have been up much more early if Hardin makes his FGs and they don’t steal a TD away from us.
        Also ECU is a legit bowl team that can and has competed with power 5 teams. Let’s not act like Jax St just came in here and dominated us.

        To me Grier is the clear future QB. He actually has upside and looked great until he was pulled the 1st time.

        • Mike The Red says:

          Give me a break. This type of PC nonsense is what you get when most of a society has been raised by their Moms.

          Heaven forbid that a coach should chew someone out for a dumb, unnecessary, and avoidable penalty.

          If we continue to play like we did next week, we may face two losses in September before we get to the tough part of our season. I should hope that Coach Mac is demanding more from the team.

    • Spuntly says:

      You are a complete idiot. If you can’t see a difference in last year’s team and this years, you should never type about football again. I expected this to be a battle. New regime, depleted OL, young qbs, new dc, no VG3…etc, etc…
      Grier looks sold to me. He made some great passes, has a quick release and reads defenses quickly. He is a freshman, he is going to be off target sometimes. There is going to be a learning curve. But it is obvious to me he can take this team further than Harris can. Kelvin Taylor looks fine running the ball. He just needs to not be an idiot. I don’t blame Coach Mac at all for jumping all over him. I’m glad he did. Go Gators! Keep posting your Nole troll trash egghead so we can continue to laugh at your ignorance.

      • Iamtheeggman says:

        The results are exactly the same. The feeling is the same, as well. After getting all excited over UF performance in week one, everyone came back down to earth after watching the second game. Just like the Kentucky game, UF could have easily lost to East Carolina. Uf again goes on the road for the third game. You can see what you want to see, but the results are exactly the same. as for McElwain, everyone seems to be harping on his embarrassing rant at Kelvin Taylor, but that wasn’t all he did. He lost it worse than I ever saw Muschamp when UF had it’s first touchdown off the board. Instead of asking what happened, he went ballistic and was as red as the unflattering picture of him a few weeks ago. It’d be one thing if it was a terrible call, and even then, it’s not an excuse to completely lose control. The penalty was easy to call. You can’t have your tight end blocking downfield when the ball was in the air. I just think he sets a bad example to everyone when he goes loco over a valid penalty.

  2. cline says:

    #30 is shaping up to be a legit threat. Go Gators

  3. Mike The Red says:

    Agree on some points and disagree on others.

    (1) Yes, the celebration last week was a little premature. See my previous comments.
    (2) From a pure talent perspective, we are probably a worse team than last year. Losing 8 players to the draft will set you back. Having said that, we have some young players who have real potential.
    (3) There is no question that our offensive play calling has improved.
    (4) Rotating the QBs seem to affect their rhythm. At the same time, does anyone have confidence in either QB? It is premature to declare one of them the designated QB. I would keep starting Grier. He put more points on the board. However when he gets in a funk, I would not hesitate to put in Harris.
    (5) The defensive line and linebackers were impressive. Our secondary less so. I hope that we can blame that on missing two starters.
    (6) Cronkrite is impressing me. I am not sure that there is enough separation between him and Taylor to justify Taylor getting the etc reps.
    (7) CUT COACH MAC A BREAK. He just saw a glimpse into a potential 3-9 season (if we keep playing like that). Of course I would expect him to come off his rocker. You are not going to fix this mess being a laid back type B personality.

    He has only been here for two games, and people are already getting on his case. Give me a break. This is going to be a painful season, but with good coach, he will lay the foundation for success in the future.

  4. Gatorant says:

    McElwain was not upset about the threat of a loss. He had no sense of accomplishment from the win. He was upset about the way they were playing. Undisciplined and sloppy. He wants our players to give 100% physically and mentally 100% of the time. I have a feeling if he gets our players to do that, McElwain would be much happier; even with a loss. He didn’t chew a player out because he dropped a ball, or missed a field goal; He chewed KT out because he actively decided to sacrifice the team for his gesture he wanted to make. Turns out that gesture almost lost us the game. I have faith in Mac. I feel like he knows exactly what he is doing and has a direct path he wants to follow.

    As for the actual game, I still feel like the offense looked better than last year. Both QBs made some nice throws that we did not see last year. Definitely lots of room for improvement but still better than last year. And our run D is riDiculous!! That’s gunna come in handy against Georgia and LSU.

    I’m optimistic about the rest of the season. An SEC Championship appearance is a lofty goal but with steady improvement by the offense and our D continuing to play great, I believe we’ve got a long shot to get there. But if not, a full year of experience with a young team and good coaching will pay off big next year. Go Gators!!

  5. mike says:

    Perspective currently with Gator football is that it has sunk to depths which are unacceptable. Coach McElwain was hired to fix that. I guess the honeymoon is over when fans are going to critique his methods of going about making that change from mediocre to excellent. If K. Taylor understood what Mac was trying to get across to him after his bone head shashing moment, why can’t Gator fans? Let the man do his job.