No. 25 Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Monday to go over his team’s thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Tennessee Volunteers as well as Florida’s upcoming game against the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday at 7 p.m.
(Portions of his post-game press conference from Saturday are also included.)
McElwain discussed Saturday’s atmosphere, injuries, players, the Gators’ poise and how the Rebels could derail Florida’s perfect start at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
Praise for The Swamp: McElwain was effusive in his praise for the fans both on Saturday and Monday when he praised The Swamp for being boisterous throughout the Tennessee contest. “Let’s start with the atmosphere in The Swamp. It’s something special, and you could see it affect their team. Give the credit to those people that stayed here to root on the Gators, because it was pretty awesome. It was pretty cool out there. It was a great atmosphere,” he said when opening his post-game press conference.
He continued to boast about Florida’s fans on Monday. “Man, the fans were awesome. I give them as much credit in that win by the noise that was happening on that last drive that maybe forced a tackle to move a little early and lose five yards,” he said. “That was nothing we did. That was what The Swamp did. That’s why it’s such a special place. My hats off to how our fans played that ballgame as well. That was good.”
Can the poise continue? In addition to being pleased with the fans, McElwain was also complimentary of his team for being calm, cool and collected throughout the game, even in the face of adversity. McElwain said Saturday that the Gators “didn’t panic” in the game, which was “good to see. They played their hearts out for the Gators and all the Gator fans and all the Gators that played before them.”
Then McElwain dropped the line of the night. “I think down deep they [know] you just don’t lose to Tennessee – and they didn’t.”
McElwain credited his team for having a winning mentality over the last two weeks, saying that was “all part of the puzzle.” He sees “some of the pieces” coming together and had his heart warmed when he saw “their faces in the locker room after a win like that.”
“I feel so good for these guys because they really have invested, this whole team. We played four games. I don’t think we’ve lost yet. Now we get a chance to go test ourselves against a great opponent that obviously should come in here and beat the heck out of us. It should be fun,” he concluded.
Watch out for Ole Miss: Ranked third in the nation, the Rebels will enter The Swamp as more than a touchdown favorite on Saturday. And deservedly so. Ole Miss has flashed on offense and defense, and its roster is loaded despite a number of defections in the offseason. In addition to saying that the Rebels will likely “beat the heck out of us” (see above) after the Vols game, McElwain went above and beyond to praise this week’s opponent, noting that most believe the Gators have little chance to win the game.
“This is a totally different Ole Miss team from a talent standpoint. You can obviously see what they’re doing in recruiting is paying huge dividends because of the players that they have on both sides of the ball. These guys are top draft picks and top players, and they were top players coming out of high school. They’ve obviously really done a great job at recruiting,” he said. “This is a really, really, really good SEC football team that has recruited great talent, and they’re coaching them well. But you know what? All that being said, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll show up and be there. Saturday’s gonna get here and should be a great challenge for the Gators. Should be another fun environment.”
Struck by the flu: McElwain did not provide a detailed injury update on Monday (expect a bit more information Wednesday), but he did note that Florida had “about nine guys out” Monday due to the flu. “In fact, today was our flu bug shot day, but obviously our timing is impeccable,” he noted Monday. “So we’re gonna struggle today. We’ve got some guys in getting IVs already; we had a bunch in yesterday and a bunch of guys today. Obviously I don’t think this runs its course, but it hurts in preparation. But that’s OK. It’s something we got to deal with.”
The four players McElwain did discuss were junior linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder), redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin (quadriceps), redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) and junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (back).
The updates? Anzalone will not be out for the season but will also not return this week. Lewis will be checked again to see if he can be fitted for a soft cast and put back on the field. Hargreaves’s “back tightened up on him” but “he seems to be OK.” And regarding Hardin?
“I don’t know where our kicker’s going to be. That will be kind of moving forward,” he began. “[Whether he’s out for the season is] up to him. I don’t know how often I’ve said it in here, but I will never play a player that doesn’t think he can play. He didn’t want to play, so the next guy plays.”
» McElwain said after the game that he was proud of junior running back Kelvin Taylor. “K.T. did good. That’s what he’s here to do,” he said. “He did a fine job.” McElwain continued Monday: “I thought he did a really good job, played a lot of plays. Really proud of some of the other things he did – being in the right spot in passing plays, protection he was really good. He was keyed into everything he did. That’s what we’ve come to expect. He’s a good player, great player, and a great Gator.”
» McElwain had “no problem at all” with freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite, neither of whom played in the game. “They’re great,” he noted.
» McElwain thought redshirt freshman K Jorge Powell performed well in Hardin’s place. “I got to tell you now that kind of an unsung hero in that ballgame was Jorge. He got the extra points up quick, made a game-saving tackle … poor little speed bump. But he stuck himself in there and it was great to see. I was really excited about that.” On Saturday, McElwain said Powell did his job, which is “what kickers do.”
» McElwain is pleased with the versatility of redshirt junior defensive back Marcus Maye. “He’s sure taken to it. The game before, he made three tackle-saving plays that were ready to get broken for big ones. This game was no different. He stopped their quarterback, [Josh] Dobbs. … Marcus is really playing well, and I think that’s attributed to his practice habits. It’ll be interesting if he can consistently do it, game in and game out. But certainly these last two games, he’s done a heck of a job.”
» The effectiveness of senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard is truly impacting the Gators, according to McElwain. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that he chose to come back. Through consistent play, he is helping himself every time he’s out there. He’s been a great leader. He’s been a guy that I think has really grabbed that D-line group and has affected some guys in a real positive way.”
» Redshirt freshman DB Deiondre Porter, who plays a reserve role but is an important player for the Gators on special teams and wore a sombrero during the Gator Walk, deserves more praise, per McElwain. “Deiondre Porter, a guy we haven’t talked about. But this guy on special teams, when called on, did his job. … Each week, there are certain guys, who knows how many plays they are going to play, but they need to show up. They are wearing the sombrero. We’re having guys understand that, from a selfish standpoint, it isn’t about how many plays you play. It’s about the quality in which you play. And everybody on the team knows how important your role, your job, and the importance of you doing your job. It’s symbolic. In this particular case, he had some huge roles for us in that game. I’m proud of him.”
» McElwain thought the offensive line stepped up in a major way against Tennessee. “I was kind of proud of those guys. They really played hard. We were on edge a couple times. I thought we had opportunities on a couple of runs where maybe we could have stuck our foot a little better and helped our O-line, too. It’s a two-way street, but part of that goes back to matching your footwork with your O-line footwork in the run game. We still need to pay attention to that detail for us to be successful.”
Notes and bits
» McElwain on the double pass called by the Gators and whether that was a response to the Vols’ trick plays: “That was called ‘rockstar,’ actually. It looked more like a bad karaoke singer. It wasn’t an answer. We were going to carry it around a midfield, 1st and 10 from that position. That’s how it’s written on the call sheet. They covered it, and that’s good for them. I kind of like doing stuff like that. Sometimes you get bored [running normal plays]. I like them.”
» McElwain on whether he sent any plays to the SEC league office, such as the missed fumble early and poorly-spotted field goal at the end: “I don’t talk about that. … There’s nothing you can do over. You don’t get do-overs in life, right? They work hard; they do everything they can to do the best thing they can. They do a great job. We have the best officiating crew in the country in the SEC. I think the guy who runs it all, Steve Shaw, he does an outstanding job of holding everybody accountable. I got more to worry about than that.”
» McElwain on how the players should feel being ranked for the first time in nearly two years: “I want them to feel good. And yet, OK, we’ve won four games. That’s what we should do. That’s got to be the thought. … What you did, you should feel good. People are starting to take notice. But as soon as you fall down, they’re going to [drop you]. … It’s a psychological part that everybody in this room deals with at times. It’ll be interesting to see. The guys should be excited about it.”
» McElwain on the importance of Saturday’s win and atmosphere for recruiting: “It was [a big recruiting weekend]. Well, I’ll tell you what, the buzz that was and the amount of guys that were just here, and the environment, there again, I credit Gator Nation for that. We’ll see how it pans out come February … but it’s sure something that we were excited about. And yet, there’s a long season to go.”