Image Credit: ESPNI
The Florida Gators played well on Saturday in their 45-7 demolition of Kentucky. Just ask head football coach Jim McElwain.
“This is as complete a performance as I think we’ve ever played with,” he said earlier this week.
In terms of praise for the Gators, that’s about as far as McElwain went.
And you know what? That’s probably all that Florida deserves.
For as poorly as the Gators have played over the last few years, they’ve had flashes like they did last Saturday. The problem for Florida has been maintaining that level of play and learning how to be consistent. That is certainly not lost on McElwain.
“The challenge moving forward is to see how this team is going to respond, see how this Gator team is going to respond. Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high and you play low and not consistently,” he explained. “This will be a huge week for us as far as our guys understanding that [you can] never, ever let an opportunity pass you by. This is another opportunity for us to go out and get a little bit better.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, who completed 19-of-32 passes for 320 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, “grew up a little bit” on Saturday, according to McElwain. The coach also said he’s pleased with how Del Rio is beginning to feel comfortable in his role and throwing it to the right color jerseys (for the most part). However, in the same breath, McElwain was quick to point out that Del Rio was “not perfect at all,” noting that he remains haunted by the tipped-pass pick Del Rio threw in the contest.
“That interception still is on me because it was exactly the way we drew it [and] against the right defense. The understanding of the attention to detail it takes to win in this league, it’s unacceptable,” he said. “As you play in this league, you cannot do that.”
That was Saturday. Here was McElwain on Monday. You could say he’s still thinking about it.
“That’s still bother[ing] me that [he] overthrew Freddie [Swain], that he doesn’t set his feet. If he sets his feet, we’ve got another explosive play. The race route to [Antonio] Callaway. Just ridiculous that he missed that throw. When he doesn’t get his feet in the right area in the right way, he’s a little late with the ball. The one down in the red area to Brandon [Powell]. When you come off the play fake and see no depth in the defense, that ball’s got to be out. I mean, he threw it off a two-hitch throw. It should have been an explosive touchdown right there. That bothers me. But he’ll see that and hopefully learn from it. … He was the first one to point out the reason he was OK was because they kept the chief clean. The pocket was pretty good, right? Let’s give the credit to them for his performance. He just did what he was supposed to do. He did his job. And yet, if he does his job better, which he can, he’ll hit those throws. And really, it irritates me.”
McElwain referred to all of this as a “teachable moment” for Del Rio, reiterating that the signal caller still has a ways to go and is far from a hall of fame player at this time. In fact, McElwain is — in some small way — pleased to see Del Rio make these mistakes because he believes it’ll make the first-year starter better in the long run.
“No matter what you do, you actually have to fail to learn,” he explained. “All the great ones failed more than they won. It’s because they’re willing to go out there and do it, right? Learning from failure is the key. And that’s for every position, that’s not just for quarterback.”
McElwain said Saturday that sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway injured his quadriceps. He added on Monday that he was “a little nervous” about Callaway’s injury, noting that he would miss practice early in the week. Of course, McElwain refused to provide any additional detail. “I watched ‘Doogie Howser,’ the show, but I don’t know. The guy’s hurt,” he said.
Callaway was reportedly seen at practice on Tuesday hobbling through non-contact drills. He will need to practice on Wednesday in order to play in Saturday’s game, according to McElwain. Of course, holding Callaway out even if he is close to full strength may be smart considering how important he is to the Gators.
Senior linebacker Daniel McMillian, who suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 against UMass, finished that game, played against Kentucky and is probable for Saturday. Freshman WR Tyrie Cleveland (hamstring) is out for the game and may be on his way to an eventual redshirt. Sophomore offensive linemen Tyler Jordan (undisclosed) and Fred Johnson (ankle) are both questionable, while redshirt senior running back Mark Herndon (undisclosed) is limited.
» Freshman OL Jawaan Taylor stepped in for Johnson on Saturday and improved Florida’s effort up front immediately. The first-year player is down to 340 pounds after being up in the high 300s before joining the program. “You talk about committing to something that is really important to you. He came to camp and we said, ‘Hey, we need you to come back and be able to move a little bit better.’ He came back at the end of camp down to about 340 and playing like a ball of rolling butcher knives,” McElwain said. “I love the way he plays and the energy he plays with. Immediately when he got here this summer, he wasn’t going to let anybody bring him down. His energy in which he plays with is contagious. … He needs to continue to develop, but obviously he is a good player.”
» Though some running backs appeared to step up over others, McElwain insists the Gators will continue using a four-back rotation. “I think they all did pretty good. It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
» McElwain believes the 3:30 p.m. games give Florida an advantage.”I love those 3 o’clock games in The Swamp because, I was looking across, and you know how the shade kind of starts to hit our sideline? I can’t believe we don’t play every game at that time. Man, that has an effect when you’re kind of sitting in a microwave, I guess,” he said.
» Redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro missed two field goals Saturday, and McElwain is responsible for one as he purposely “create[d] chaos” for Pineiro by not calling a timeout and rushing a kicking operation to see how the player would handle the situation.”It’s also a teachable moment as well, and you know, Eddy’s the one who told me it doesn’t matter about the crowd, it doesn’t matter about — it’s all how you go about your approach and your swing. And, you know, his swing plane in that game, he was trying to kill everything.”
» McElwain insists Florida opened its playbook less against Kentucky than it did UMass.
» Gators players write down their goals each week and post them publicly around the football facility. “Why keep it a secret? So then you can hold each other accountable. Isn’t that kind of how you run an organization?” McElwain asked.
» McElwain attributed intense film study and preparation to the interceptions by junior cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson on Saturday. “The way [Tabor] studied, he knew the tendencies, he knew the look, he knew the split. He broke on it perfectly. As we tell these guys over and over, through your film study and learning tendencies, you can actually play faster. In that case, it was a big-time play by him,” McElwain said.
» For Florida to be a good football team, McElwain is honed in on being able to be successful and consistent running the football. He wants the Gators to get their explosive plays off play-action passing and feels that they are headed down the right direction in that regard. “If you can run the ball offensively, it now opens up your whole playbook as to what you can do. It’s about establishing the run on offense and it’s about stopping the run on defense. That’s what great football teams do and championship programs do if you look at it year in and year out, the teams that are really successful,” he said.