No. 25 Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Wednesday to preview his team’s Saturday contest against the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels. The Southeastern Conference foes will go head-to-head in a 7 p.m. home game for the Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
McElwain addressed his starting quarterback, whether Florida has any injury concerns entering the game and how the Gators have prepared for their toughest test yet this season.
Some consistency: Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier will start his fourth consecutive game for Florida and appears to have the opportunity to play it out on his own, just as he did the last two contests against Kentucky and Tennessee – both victories.
With Grier named the starter on Wednesday, McElwain did mention that there is a the possibility that sophomore Treon Harris would see the field, though it would be more as a change-of-pace player and not be a repeat of the split effort the two signal callers shared in the first two contests.
“I just know this: We’ve got two guys. We’ve got one that played pretty good in some situations last week that deserves to go this week, but he knows that he’s got a lot to learn and a long ways to go as far as understanding how to play the position,” said McElwain, who put the onus on Grier to improve but also noted that there are other Gators who need to step forward to help the offense flow better.
“We’ve also got a lot of guys that need to pick up their level of play around him for us to be successful. We’ve got issues in some other areas that guys got to step up and start taking accountability for their actions during games and responsibility to play right and do right and help that guy, the quarterback, along.”
Injury and illnesses: No news is good news? Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (back) has not been listed on Florida’s injury report all week, according to McElwain. Furthermore, redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) has practiced all week and will likely be fitted for a soft cast Thursday, which would provide him with the ability to play in Saturday’s game.
The only injuries McElwain had to report were to sophomore wide receiver C.J. Worton, who “pulled up a little bit today with a leg,” and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Travaris Dorsey, whose ailment was undisclosed.
The only remaining issue involving the Gators’ health is the flu bug that affected nine of them early in the week. McElwain noted that there are still some dealing with the flue, including a couple of notable players that went unnamed. “Who knows, come game time, where we’re going to be at. At the same time, if somebody can’t be there then somebody else will,” McElwain said.
Shuffling the offensive line? Whether it will be a sign of changes to a unit, one which McElwain praised for its play last week, remains to be seen, but Florida did have offensive linemen play outside their normal positions in practice over the last few days. McElwain said the Gators were “just working on some positional things” and ran those drills “strictly because of depth” in order to make sure they’re covered in case of injury or illness. He believes the unit as a whole is still coming along but getting better each day.
“I don’t care how many starts you have; I don’t care how young you are. We’re playing in the SEC and we’re playing conference games, so you’ve got to play like a veteran. That’s the expectation,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to grow at that spot. I think we’ll get better and better with every rep that we take. But there is no time for the future; it’s about the now. They’ve held up OK. The guys they’re playing this week, they’re probably licking their chops and probably think they’re going to set an NCAA record on sacks or something.”
An uneasy feeling: McElwain has not been thrilled with Florida’s preparation heading into its biggest game in his short tenure. A couple times on Wednesday, McElwain said there was not “a great energy” on Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice “started not very good.” However, he has been pleased with the Gators’ focus following those slow starts. “I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad sign, but [the struggle] wasn’t for a lack of focus.”
He also addressed his overall evaluation of the program through four games. Florida is 4-0, but it barely squeaked by Kentucky in a road game and needed a major come-from-behind victory to take down Tennessee. Is this program where you hoped it would be by now?
“No. Our expectations are … we set a pretty high bar. Am I really happy that we’re 4-0? Absolutely. Every time you have an opportunity to go out and get a win, that’s good. Way to go,” he began.
“That stuff’s over. It only mattered how well we did today and how well we continue to do today and then however we progress into Perfect Thursday moving forward to see [whether we] have mastered the routine of what we need to do to be successful.”
Notes and bits
» On whether freshmen running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett will be playing more and why they have not been in action recently: “We’ll see kind of moving forward. They’ve had great weeks of practice. They’ve done a good job. They’re working hard. They’re understanding, conceptually, how to go and how to go hard and ball security and all the nuances in the protection game. They’ll be ready when they’re called on.”
» On coaching Florida in The Swamp: “That stadium here, man, that’s a lot of fun. For somebody within the program and within the organization to be able to see a Saturday in The Swamp, that’s something special. Sometimes in this business maybe we don’t appreciate some of the things that we get to see. It’s a little different than running out on the field there at Woodard Stadium there in Cheyney, Washington. Nothing against it, because the red turf scares a lot of people when they get there, but you know, this is special. I hope it’s OK, but I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
» On whether redshirt freshman kicker Jorge Powell’s tackling was an example for the defense, which missed plenty on Saturday: “Don’t think we did show that to the team and say, ‘You know what? This is what it’s all about.’ That guy truly gave up himself. That’s more than a speed bump.”