No. 11 Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Monday to go over his team’s dominant 38-10 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels as well as Florida’s upcoming game against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
(Portions of his post-game press conference from Saturday are also included.)
McElwain discussed the Gators’ surge in success, redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier and how Florida must be careful not to suffer a letdown on Saturday at Missouri.
Number three? Discussing Florida’s successful 13-play, 91-yard scoring drive that resulted in a touchdown 20 seconds before the half on Saturday, McElwain offered some rare praise for Grier. The redshirt freshman signal caller went 7-for-7 down that stretch for 68 yards with a drive-ending touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway, all while expertly executing the offense.
“In Will’s case, he did the best job of the night because he took a couple check downs, which tells me he’s starting to understand action – reaction – number three,” McElwain began. “Sometimes in young quarterbacks, they get the action, sometimes the reaction, but they don’t have a clue with number three is.”
In that way, Grier is a microcosm of the entire Gators program. Though storied and successful in the past, Florida is a young program in McElwain’s first year – not just in age (19 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep depth chart) but also experience.
Therefore, just like Grier did on that drive, the Gators as a whole are being faced with figuring out the last part of that equation. Florida understood the action – a come-from-behind victory over rival Tennessee in The Swamp. It succeeded in completing the reaction – a wire-to-wire win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss in the same venue. Now, it’s the elusive “number three.” Can Florida maintain this level of success heading into its toughest road test yet at Mizzou?
“It’ll be really interesting to see how we handle the praise. All the people that obviously said [the Gators] weren’t worth a hill of beans, now are talking about them – people rubbing their bellies and making them feel good. Yeah, they should get their bellies rubbed. They’ve done a good job. And yet, how do you handle it? I know it’ll be interesting,” McElwain began. He added much later: “There’s nothing wrong with getting your belly rubbed. It feels good. I like it.”
McElwain wants to see the Gators handle their business ahead of their Week 6 game. He hopes Florida “can be mature enough” to understand that their opponent is no pushover and their preparation cannot slack.
“Guys, let’s face it, they’re the champ[s],” he said of the Tigers, noting that they do almost everything right on the field – taking care of the ball on offense, getting it back on defense and being efficient on either side when in the red zone.
McElwain believes that the Gators succeeded against the Rebels on Saturday because the “guys played the way they practiced.” He called the effort “as good a defensive performance as I’ve probably ever been around,” noting that Florida took the lessons it learned against Tennessee and applied it not only in practice but the next game.
“I’m kind of interested to see if our team is a one-hit wonder,” he reiterated. “How many hits have they had? They’ve had one. They’re a one-hit wonder [right now]. I don’t think we are, but we’ll find out this week if we’re a one-hit wonder, if we get one American Bandstand show and then we’re done. They only saw Dick Clark once.”
All that said, McElwain has no expectation that the Gators will fall off this week, and he knows that Florida’s rightful place is at the top of the SEC East standings. That’s why “restore the order” has been such a hot tagline for the team during the 2015 season.
“The order for a long time there was the Gators – we were right up there at the top of the order. For some reason, the order has been skewed,” he said. “I look at it a little bit as a responsibility. But you have to be mature enough to handle the responsibility.”
McElwian added: “This is where the University of Florida should be, so don’t be surprised [of our success], but let’s take advantage of it.”
In other words, Florida needs to respond just like Grier did Saturday and figure out “number three.”
Goading Grier: McElwain admitted Monday to what has long been suspected of him: He has no desire to praise his quarterbacks for playing well, or as it looks to him, doing their jobs. He simply holds his signal callers to a higher standard than the rest of the team, of which he has singled out and boasted about individually throughout the first five weeks of the season.
Allow him to explain himself.
“Call [my former quarterbacks],” he suggested. “You’re supposed to [play well]. You have the plan, now go execute it. That position, why are you satisfied with not throwing every completion? How can you be satisfied when you’ve been given the answer to it and you don’t execute it? That’s what frustrates me.
“In that, [Grier] did some really good things [Saturday]. He’s taking care of the football. I think he was great in the red area. We’ll just see how he keeps advancing. But not to downplay, he had a great execution of the plan. We’ll see how he does this week.”
Ah yes, this week, where Grier has still not been named the starter, though that is really just academic at this point. Grier finished Saturday’s game 24 of 29 for 271 yards and four touchdowns. With all four scoring throws coming in the first half, Grier became the first Florida quarterback since Chris Leak (2005) to achieve that feat.
Yet McElwain believes the Gators’ offense is “growing up,” just “starting to do some things” and still has “so far to go.” He’s right. One stellar offensive performance is not indicative of long-term success on that side of the ball, but Grier has most certainly looked the part of a program-changer over the last five quarters.
Of course, he’s had some help, namely the offensive line that under assistant Mike Summers gets better by the week and is now a capable unit after it appeared that it would be anything but in the offseason.
“The influx of the new guys has been fantastic. Let’s not downplay the fact that Mason Halter has been doing a great job at a lot of different spots, an older guy that has been there and brought some leadership,” McElwain began.
“We’re still nowhere where we’re going to be, I’ll say that, and yet getting Trip [Thurman] back has been great and obviously the young guys have been doing a pretty darn good job in there. I would say the biggest thing I see there is they’re starting to understand the value of communication. … It was really dark [and it’s not anymore].”
While McElwain still has questions about the offense, defenders that have seen their teammates struggle so mightily on that side of the ball are signing another tune altogether. They’re thrilled that Florida is moving the ball on offense, giving them an opportunity to catch their breath and return to the field as an even more dominant unit.
“That was awesome, man. That was awesome. We had the utmost confidence in them the whole game on the sideline. The utmost confidence,” said junior linebacker Jarrad Davis on Saturday. “We saw it in practice [last] week. If we got the ball in their hands anywhere close to the 50-yard line, it was points. It almost makes you feel like you’re invincible. But at the same time, we know we have to go out there and make plays [as a defense].”
Injury updates: Junior WR Ahmad Fulwood will be non-contact in practice early in the week with an arm injury. Redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) has been fitted for a smaller, softer cast but remains doubtful to return to the field. Some players are also still dealing with remnants of the flu bug that infected the team, but all should be healthy by the time the next game starts.
The best piece of news regarding injuries and health came in for redshirt junior LB Jeremi Powell, who returned to practice Monday and is unofficially questionable for the game. Powelll’s absence has hurt Florida’s linebacking depth, and his return would seriously help a thin unit.
» McElwain heaping praise on senior LB Antonio Morrison and sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson: “What [Morrison] has overcome, the work that he has put in and more so he was very disappointed in how he played the week before – took it personally. And then you put on the film on how he practiced and studied going into this game – and his play. Another guy, Quincy Wilson. Just take a look at his tests. The guy cares. He’s complete. Both of them, they’re complete in everything they’re doing. … God, it’s great to see. And what’s better to see is the success they’re having is a direct correlation to what they put into it. In Antonio’s case, I can’t say enough good stuff about this guy. … My hat’s off to that guy giving up himself to make this team good.”
» McElwain from Saturday on the statuses of Grier and sophomore QB Treon Harris: “I think [Grier] played pretty decent, and we’ll check the film and go from there. But Treon was ready and will be ready; he’ll continually prepare.”
» McElwain from Saturday on junior WR Demarcus Robinson, who hauled in eight passes for 98 yards and a score: “He did good. He got open. … He did his job and caught the ball. And yet, at the same time, he’s got to learn to catch it and run and not dance around. Those guys are gonna come get you, so you might as well try to run away from them really fast. I don’t get it.”
» McElwain from Saturday on redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend: “He’s been good. He can do that. He’s that kind of punter, and we need to have that consistently every time. He did a great job of flipping the field for us, and yet, that’s what punters are supposed to do, right? So he did his job.”
Notes and bits
» McElwain on to what he attributes the team’s overall improvement: “How guys are actually doing things because they’re being held accountable by their teammates, which in turn through that preparation, you should be confident because you’re actually putting in and investing. It kind of just keeps rolling, and I do like their sense of [togetherness].”
» McElwain on the crowd in The Swamp: “Our fans in that game had as much to do with their inefficiency, especially on some third downs.”
» McElwain on being proud of special teams for the first time; “We covered our tails off. That’s what we should be doing. We’ll see if they respond to the challenge or can put back-to-back together.”
» McElwain on meeting Emmitt Smith and getting him to speak to the team on Friday: “Shoot guys, I was like a kid in a candy store. I actually had a chance to shake Emmitt Smith’s hand. That was pretty neat. … Any time you can reach back to these guys that have done so much for the University of Florida and its brand. … Here’s a Hall of Famer; here’s a Super Bowl champion; here’s a guy who stands for the right things; here’s a guy who has given back and isn’t selfish about his accomplishments. Any time you can point to that, I love the Gators coming back because our guys got to understand they’re carrying on a legacy that is bigger than them.
» While the Gators got “sack happy” against Tennessee, which led to big, open running holes, Florida was able to fix that this week and focus on tackling, which allowed it to shut down the Ole Miss offense. McElwain cautioned that players should not worry about statistics because those will come by doing their jobs.
» There were 22 players sick last week, many of whom were quarantined from the rest of the team.