After a sub-standard performance in a win over East Carolina, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Monday and Wednesday to preview the team’s upcoming road contest against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Lexington, Kentucky.
McElwain provided injury and depth chart updates but also addressed some of what the Gators have done well, particularly with young players that have stepped up over the last two weeks.
(Mostly good) injury updates: Though McElwain did not provide detailed injury updates on Monday during his press conference to open Week 3, it was quite obvious to those in attendance at Tuesday’s practice who was back healthy with the team.
Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (undisclosed leg injury) was listed by McElwain as “probably questionable” but suited up in full pads and took the field Tuesday night. Similarly, freshman offensive tackle Martez Ivey (knee) – “We’re going to try to get him out there in some drills this week.” – dressed out fully and participated in practice. McElwain confirmed Wednesday on the SEC teleconference that Ivey not only practiced but looked really good on the field.
VH3 is at practice today pic.twitter.com/6lDqWcGSxj
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) September 15, 2015
McElwain did say that junior safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) would be “ready to roll” and that was indeed the case, as it was with redshirt junior Rush Jordan Sherit, who worked through an injured foot but practiced in full.
While getting those three back is good news for the Gators, junior linebacker Alex Anzalone was not in pads Tuesday while the team takes a closer look at the shoulder he injured Saturday against East Carolina. McElwain confirmed the injury was to the same shoulder he had surgery on and listed Anzalone’s status as “definitely probably doubtful to out” on Wednesday’s teleconference.
Senior wide receiver Latroy Pittman will also be back this week after a two-game suspension, while redshirt sophomore running back Case Harrison‘s playing status is up in the air after he injured his thumb in Saturday’s game.
So much for “DBU” … Florida’s secondary is underperforming. While the Gators locked down New Mexico State in the second half and have made some big plays in the defensive back field this season, they are 87th nationally in passing yards allowed (241.0 per game) and 55th in passing efficiency defense (116.88) despite playing one of the worst teams in the nation and a talented but lower-tier East Carolina squad.
Not helping UF is that Hargreaves missed the last game and Neal has been absent for both contests this season, but there is enough talent on the back end of Florida’s defense that those losses should have been mitigated through the first two contests. Still, this is where the Gators are right now, with the secondary performing to such an underwhelming level that the unit’s members believed a players-only meeting was necessary just two games into the season.
“It was great,” said Neal of the meeting. “You heard all the Twitter talk and social media talk about us being DBU and the best [secondary] in the country. Well, the first two games, we didn’t show that. That meeting was to come back to a platform where we need to be, start from the ground and work up rather than have this pedestal. Go back and figure out what we need to do better.”
Neal, who sat out the first two contests with a hamstring injury, noted that being on the sideline was “killing me inside.” He realizes that injuries happen and you have to accept your fate but noted that it was especially difficult for him not to be out on the field. “You’re constantly getting mental reps. That’s all you can do,” he said.
With Hargreaves and Neal expected to be back in action against Kentucky, Florida’s secondary should be whole for the first time this season. Whether that results in improved play and locking down a rising Wildcats offense, well, that remains to be seen.
An honest evaluation of Kentucky: McElwain said the Gators will certainly be prepared for the Wildcats on Saturday and will not enter Lexington taking the team lightly.
“This team that we’re playing is not your same old Kentucky. These guys are really good. You can tell the influence that they’ve had in the three years they’ve been there,” he began.
“Obviously the commitment from the university in the school in the $165 million that they’re putting into the program both with their stadium that we’ll get a chance to see for the first time, and they’ll finish of their football standalone complex next year. You can tell that there’s a true commitment to what they’re trying to do, and you can see by the way they play.
“Each year they’re getting a little bit better and you can see how opportunistic they are on defense. … I know they’re really excited about what they’re doing down in Lexington and should be. This will be one heck of a challenge for us as a program.”
Running wild: Though Florida’s rushers have not had dominant performances through the team’s first two games, junior Kelvin Taylor‘s throat slash gesture, coupled with the performance of the team’s rookies, has kept the group newsworthy to say the least.
Regarding Taylor, though he was demoted to third on the Gators’ most recent depth chart, McElwain insisted that “K.T. will carry the bigger burden of everything, just as he has in the first couple [of games].” Florida will still rotate its running backs, because McElwain believes keeping Taylor fresh will ensure that he stays effective in games and healthy all season.
“I do love the way he plays the game with passion and goes 100 percent every time. We can’t beat him up, and I don’t think that’s what we want to do there,” he said Monday.
McElwain also said the freshmen, Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite, “came in here expecting to play and haven’t disappointed. … They see how hard Kelvin Taylor prepares and practices” and have learned by example.
Quarterbacks still a question: McElwain admitted on Wednesday’s teleconference that redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris will both play against Kentucky and the coach is frustrated that neither has pulled ahead in the competition just yet.
McElwain said the staff went over a ton of film of the players Sunday night, and though they did not see “fatal flaws” in the players, “both guys did an OK job” and neither really stepped up when presented with opportunities to win the job outright.
“I think Treon had an opportunity there when we came into the red area and for whatever reason kind of sputtered a little bit. Obviously coming out of half, there were a couple throws that Will made that, to reference this again, I think Bob Uecker would’ve had fun with. Just don’t know, don’t quite have an answer for that. They were at least pointed in the right direction,” he said.
Notes and bits
» Linebackers redshirt junior Jeremi Powell and junior Daniel McMillian will see their playing time increase with Anzalone sidelined by injury. “We were thin at that position; we knew, talked about it going in. Those guys are going to have to play a bunch more reps,” McElwain said. “We’ve done a pretty good job keeping them fresh in the rotation. It may mean a little more dime at times, based on different personnel groupings you’re going to see, to be able to kind of take some pressure off the position.”
» Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis on his steady improvement this offseason and top-notch play this fall: “Definitely [I’ve improved] my mental fortitude on the field. This game, a lot of people think it’s all about physicality, but you have to be mentally ready to come out there on the field every day to progress your game to just get better and become the best you that you can possibly be.”
» McElwain on Davis’s play: “He’s a guy that we knew was very important to this team based on how hard the guy plays and how hard he studies. … I think his play really showed up.”
» McElwain on how pleased he was with junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson‘s response from discipline the week prior: “I thought he [had a good game]. I thought he played consistently and played with some speed and tempo. … I thought he played pretty good. He did his job, which I was really glad to see.”
» McElwain was pleased with the play of offensive linemen sophomore David Sharpe and freshman Fredrick Johnson, both of whom will continue to see extensive action with the team. He also gave a shot-out to senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard on Monday.
» Redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee on the emergence of sophomore TE DeAndre Goolsby: “He’s just comfortable. Now he knows that he’s a big part of this offense. He sees his opportunity, and it’s getting more and more comfortable every day. A heck of a football player. It’s exciting to see him grow, and I think he’ll only continue to perform.”
» McElwain on the players responding positively to his blow up at Taylor on Saturday: “Look, I give everything for these guys. Why you go into coaching is to help these guys not only to be better as players but to help them kind of understand big picture things as well. This is a fun group to be around, and I really enjoy being around them. We try to treat them like they’re our own, and yet give them an opportunity to realize we make choices.”
» McElwain on how kicking and punting went against ECU: “We had a couple of missed field goals, which I’ve got total confidence in [redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin] – he’ll get the corrected and kick it through. Even though we had a pretty good punting average, it would’ve been a lot better other than the one Johnny [Townsend] kind of got off the side of his foot and delivered to a lucky fan in the crowd.”