Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Monday to go over his team’s mistake- and penalty-filled victory over the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday as well as Florida’s upcoming game against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
McElwain discussed the Gators’ still-unsettled quarterback situation, struggling offensive line and injuries that could derail Florida as it gears up to face a rival at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
But first, injuries: Joining junior linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder) on the mend is redshirt junior Jeremi Powell, who is dealing with a “high foot” injury and is “probably out” for Saturday, according to McElwain. Powell got injured at Kentucky, and his loss will affect an already-thin linebacking corps that will now rely on help from the secondary to fill its ranks.
Staying with that position group, redshirt sophomore Jordan Sherit (foot) will be fully cleared to go on defense after only playing special teams against UK, and Matt Rolin (undisclosed) will return to practice after being injured with multiple ailments the last few weeks.
McElwain still has “no idea” on redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand), but knows that junior wide receiver Chris Thompson should return this week after a “back kind of issue” (lower back) and redshirt sophomore running back Casey Harrison (thumb) remains out as he’s getting a screw implanted in his hand.
Quarterback questions: Despite redshirt freshman Will Grier playing the entire game Saturday, even through injury, McElwain stated matter-of-factly Monday that Grier seeing so much action did not matter in terms of his decision for this week’s game. “Obviously Will went the whole game – don’t read anything into that as far as how this goes this week. We’ll decide as we move forward,” he said. “I wouldn’t look into that more than we were kind of in the flow there a little bit.”
McElwain’s primary issue with Grier, whose performance he referred to as “just OK” on Saturday, was that he left some plays on the field by relying on running the ball too often. “He made some big plays with his feet, using his feet as a check down. Sometimes what happens to you is you like, ‘Hey, this is cool, man, I’ll just drop back and look for a hole and run,’” McElwain explained.
Though McElwain was pleased with his first touchdown – Grier did not have an open receiver so rolled out on 4th and Goal at the 1-yard line and dove into the corner of the end zone – he was equally as displeased against his end zone interception on 1st and Goal. “He [could have] just given it to a lucky fan [like] it’s arena ball; they could’ve kept the ball. Just give it to a lucky fan. But those are things you learn from and good thing it didn’t come back to bite us,” he said.
McElwain did say that Florida may have missed some opportunities to put sophomore Treon Harris in the game, either as a change-of-pace option or just to relieve Grier when he seemed dinge dup at the end. Overall, the Gators have “some things we really got to work on at that position.”
He added: “It’s not always the quarterback. The position, I get it, everybody has to write about it. It has as much to do with the other 10 around you and then your decisions in distributing the ball from there. It’s the point guard seeing the court and getting to the shooter off some kind of pick or something, whether it’s a backdoor or whether it’s coming off a double screen or whether it’s leading the break and spitting it out for a layup. That’s what we have to get better at, and the guys around him have to set the good screen, a guy has to rub off tight on the pick, and the guys got to be able to be in the right spot on the court-spacing part of it.”
As for Saturday against the Vols, McElwain said the Gators are “gonna play it the way we play it.” He is pleased with the way Harris handled not playing Saturday, referring to him as a “true team guy” who was “obviously disappointed” but will still prepare and get ready to play against UT.
A ways to go: There were plenty of issues facing UF on Saturday, and the offensive line was unsurprisingly one of them. Still the youngest and most inexperienced group on the team, the Gators were unable to hold a pocket for Grier during portions of the game and struggled even more to open up running lanes for running backs junior Kelvin Taylor and freshman Jordan Cronkrite.
McElwain is not convinced Florida will be any better against Tennessee, which is obviously a concern, especially because he is aware that UF will be facing much, much more talented players in the upcoming weeks, starting Saturday.
“We’re going to start to play some real D-linemen, some glass-eaters and fire-breathers,” he said.
“You’re going to have to get off the ball and play with pad level and get your second step in the ground and snap your hips. Part of that comes with just experience, doing it over and over and over and over. … Get off the ball and go move somebody. That’s what we’ve got to do. I think we’ve done that a little bit on the edges. Probably haven’t done that as well inside. We’ve popped a couple, but controlling the line of scrimmage, just keep working at that.”
Offensive line is far from the Gators’ only issue. Special team has been abhorrent this season with redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin missing three straight field goals, including one that he actually made Saturday only for Florida to be flagged for delay of game, leading to a miss on the re-do. All of this after McElwain sung Hardin’s praises in the offseason and after Week 1 for his improved leg strength and accuracy.
“The missed field goals are something that are starting to become a concern. I’ll be straight up,” McElwain said. “The low trajectory, I mean, it’s not like there’s a block issue in there as far as the schematics of the protection. We need to get better at it. That delay of game should have never happened.”
Of course, that was only one penalty in the game. The Gators flagged for 10 in the contest, giving them 22 in the last two weeks after just one in the season opener. This for a Florida team that McElwain referred to as the most-penalized in the nation over the last few seasons and blew up on last week for its poor decision-making in regards to miscues.
“The type of penalties, what I’m getting at, are very correctable,” he said. I don’t think that running into the punter one — I’m still scratching my head on how he did that —it ended up not killing us, I guess. I thought we played the game pretty darn good and was happy with how we did it.”
» Junior Jonathan Bullard, who was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his two-sack performance: “Wow. Wow. Not only [playing well], but his leadership. His day-to-day work habit are something that affected that whole group. … It starts with Jon. What he’s doing in preparation [is impressive]. It’s not the game. The game’s easy if you take care of today. And that’s what he’s really done.”
» Freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who has been a bright spot on the Gators’ offense through three games: “Antonio, I’m sure glad he’s a Gator. We knew that when we recruited him. You’re going to see more and more get-it-tos for him as he kind of still learns and does things. … When you’re in practice, he doesn’t take a play off. He’s going to make a mistake here and there in practice, but he wants to correct it. It’s important to him. And this team’s important to him. Yeah, I kind of like No. 81.”
» Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis, who flew around the field on Saturday: “Fun. Isn’t he fun to watch? That play on the speed sweep … I mean, he came shot out of a cannon on that son of a gun. I’ll tell these guys, they’re fun to watch. Just the way they play and now playing together and being happy for each other and their success. It’s fun to watch.”
» Redshirt junior defensive back Marcus Maye, who stepped up and played a new position on Saturday: “Some of the formational things actually forced Marcus Maye to come in and play Mike linebacker based on formations. What we did in that game at that position was something that should be written about. I was really proud of that. He made a couple really good open field tackles on some plays that broke. I thought that was really good to see.”
» Freshman offensive tackle Martez Ivey, who made his debut Saturday: “I thought he knocked off some rust. I think he blew them off the ball pretty well. He did a really good job of creating some push. His quickness. He did good.”
» Junior WR Demarcus Robinson, who often will hold the ball with one hand: “Ball security. [Sarcastic] No, I don’t say anything to him. I just go ahead and let him do what he wants to do, right? You know what? Here’s the thing: It’s going to hurt him if he wants an opportunity to play at the next level. Here’s the thing you got to understand: Whatever you put on film is being looked at. Be proud of what you put on film.”
» Freshman running back Jordan Scarlett, who did not see the field in Lexington: “He’ll play this week. He’ll play He’s got to continue to do good in practice. We need him. So, he’ll play. Consistency, ball security. … You got to do it every day. I’m sure glad he’s here. He’s going to be a really good player for us. It’s just, the moment didn’t come in that ball game.”
Notes and bits
» On how Florida handled being on the road: “SEC wins are hard to come by on the road and to get one on our side of the conference is really big. Probably a couple things that really stood out was how our guys traveled. From a business trip standpoint, I thought they handled it really well, I thought they handled the environment well, and I thought they really enjoyed the environment.”
» On UF’s youth: “I’ll be straight up: I’m not sure I’ve been on this young a team or had this many amount of young contributors that are playing valuable snaps before. But I think what it does is speak to the older guys kind of telling them, ‘Look, this is how we’re going to do it, this is how we’re going to go about our business,’ and these guys learning from that.”
» On whether he’s concerned about production from the running game: “I’m concerned about wins and how we’re going to get them. Obviously, you would love to have a 10-yard average when you run the ball. I think where I’m more concerned is our explosive runs; they haven’t been there, and we’ve got to somehow create that with a little bit of movement, snap up front, and then we’ve got to hit that crease when we have it.”
» On Tennessee’s offense: “We have to be really good tacklers this week and hopefully not give [the running backs] a bunch of gaping holes because they can hurt you and they can finish. Fun to watch. Their receivers [are] big and physical. … I know Butch has a lot of receiver background as a coach and you can tell by the way those guys play fundamentally and get after you. And they’re not turning the ball over. I think that goes back to the credit of what they’re doing.”
» On the Vols’ defense: “Defensively, you can tell that they’ve recruited to the SEC level. Very athletic. They’re young up front, but they’re playing a lot of guys and those guys are making plays. I attribute that to Steve Strickland, their D-line coach, who I was with at Louisville and Michigan State. [He’s] pne of the best in the business, and you can tell how disciplined they play up front and how hard they play up front. They do a great job there. … Defensively, they’re getting the ball back and that speaks to what they’re doing. They’ve got veteran defensive coaches that know how to attack SEC offenses.”
» On the Gators will be motivated to keep their 10-game winning streak against the Vols going: “Calvin, our state trooper, big Calvin, so there’s a lot of things that are going on in your mind before you head onto the bus before you go to the stadium. Of course, he reminds me that they have an exit plan because they may rush the field when they beat us. I’m like, ‘Calvin, wait a minute man, I thought you’re on our team.’ … [Rivalries] are what makes college football so much fun. Rivalries, streaks, whatever they are, and yet no matter what, every coach will tell you each game is an individual event. It’s a different set of players. It’s all that. … I just believe in, if you take care of now, the game is going to come no matter what. Just don’t get caught up in all that. Focus on the now and that’s what we try to do. Human nature [can prevent that], but you’ve got to be disciplined.”