Members of the No. 11 Florida Gators and head coach Jim McElwain met with the media after practice this week to preview the team’s upcoming road game against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The players and McElwain discussed Florida’s mindset entering the Mizzou game, the Gators’ effort in practice, injuries and overall preparation for what should be an important SEC East contest.
On the mind: It took an additional month for Will Muschamp to be fired as head coach of the Gators, but it was obvious his tenure was coming to an end on Oct. 18, 2014, when Florida – fresh off a devastating 30-27 home loss to LSU – was turned into a laughing stock by Missouri … in The Swamp … on homecoming.
The Gators’ success this season has probably blocked out that memory for most, but here’s a refresher. The Tigers only picked up seven first downs, totaled 119 yards of offense and completed 6-of-18 pass attempts. Mizzou’s leading offensive player, quarterback Maty Mauk, totaled 58 yards. Oh, and despite all that, the visitors scored 42 points and won the game by 29.
“Embarrassing,” is how redshirt junior safety Marcus Maye recalled Florida’s performance in that game. “That’s not what we want to put on film. That’s not how we want to play. Fans aren’t used to things going that way. It was just down for everybody, for the whole team.”
“That was probably the lowest point of the year,” added redshirt junior Rush linebacker Alex McCalister. “That was homecoming. We came in and let that team just take everything from us.”
Junior S Keanu Neal said the Gators “lost hope” during and after that game. Senior defensive back Brian Poole remembered the experience as “horrible,” calling Mizzou’s domination “probably the worst I ever felt.”
New head coach Jim McElwain refused to say that retribution was part of the Gators’ game plan for the Tigers, but he did say Florida is “looking forward to the opportunity” and not taking Saturday’s game lightly one week after routing then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
In fact, the Gators did not even know that Saturday just so happens to be the Tigers’ homecoming.
“Oh, that’s perfect, I didn’t know that,” exclaimed McCalister, who said the game was already marked on his calendar as a means of revenge after a difficult 2014. “Even better.”
Seen better days: Rare is it for McElwain to be completely pleased with his team’s practice performances in a given week. Such was the case Wednesday when he said the prior day’s effort was “not particularly great” due to lower-than-desired energy, though he was able to take away some positives such as Florida having “pretty good concentration” throughout the practice. He was also pleased with how the Gators rebounded Wednesday.
“Thought it picked up a little bit today, especially in our good-on-good competition stuff that we do in practice,” he said. “I thought there was really good tempo there and I thought the guys were enjoying playing the game and playing hard against each other.”
One thing McElwain singled out when posed the question Wednesday was how proud he is of Florida’s overall conditioning, which he of course chalks up to the efforts put in by Mike Kent, the program’s new director of strength and conditioning. McElwain said what Kent and his team do often goes unnoticed, but he is pleased with not only his staff’s efforts but also how Florida responded to a completely new system.
“The position-specific conditioning … and the way that they have attacked the amount of reps and speed at which we practice – and the chaos that we create – Coach Kent does a great job of that,” McElwain explained. “By simulating chaos, it helps you focus on the detail of being successful. He does that same thing – it matches everything that we do in the program. I can’t say enough good things about those guys down there.”
That buy-in has seemingly been complete by the Gators, which not only adapted to a new strength program but varied systems and philosophies. Maye believes that the success is all due to the confidence McElwain instilled at Florida from day one, noting that it is a top program, has a serious amount of talent and can contend as long as everyone comes together.
“The day he walked in, he always said, ‘We are the Gators.’ He has that confidence about himself and it just passes on to his coaching staff and to the players,” Maye explained. “He instills confidence in us that we have the ability and talent to do anything.”
McElwain has said multiple times since the end of the Ole Miss game that Florida is not all the way back just yet, but he’s encouraged by what he has seen when the program succeeds and even when it has failed.
“We’ve got a long ways to go offensively, obviously, and we’re certainly far from perfect defensively. I just know this: Good teams really care about each other and feed of each other’s success and maybe misfortune because it elevates you a little bit,” he said.
Injury updates: McElwain did not get into too much detail on Florida’s injury – nothing new there – but he did provide some status updates on Wednesday. Redshirt junior LB Jeremi Powell is being listed as questionable for the game, though it sounds more and more like he will play. Redshirt sophomore DB Marcell Harris is listed as probable.
Though junior LB Alex Anzalone is still in a sling and out indefinitely, McElwain expects redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Travaris Dorsey and Kavaris Harkless back for the LSU game. Redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis is also on his way to recovery and is doubtful for Saturday but could return at LSU, too.
The only new injury was to freshman DB Chirs Williamson, who specifically “pulled a leg somewhere in there.”
Oh, and that flu bug? It’s mostly gone … mostly. “It actually hit one of the coaches rooms this week, too. Better the coach though than the players, believe me,” McElwain quipped.
Notes and bits
» McElwain on why redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier had ointment applied to his lower back: “I guess maybe they got tired of rubbing his belly, I don’t know. [Shrugging] I’ll tell you what, that’s some observation. I didn’t know that. He practiced, so maybe he just, I don’t know, got tired of getting his belly rubbed so they went to his back. I don’t know.”
» McElwain on junior defensive lineman Joey Ivie blocking on offense: “In our heavy package, wherever we’ve been, we’ve always used guys from either side of the ball based on the needs. What he’s done is he’s really accepted it and looks forward to it. There’s been a couple times where we’ve scored and he hasn’t hit anybody, but he was on track, he did the right thing. It’s just fun to do that.”
» McElwain on Florida’s kick return game, which has been struggling to win one-on-one battles: “We’ve been awful close. There isn’t one particular thing. Part of it is challenging them to understand the importance of the first play on offense. They’ve never been really approached like that before, so it’s new.”
Crumbs and bits: Asked about the food provided by the program for players, which can now be unlimited under altered NCAA rules, McElwain made it clear that the Gators have focused on the “quantity and availability” of food rather than trying to be fancy or over the top in always providing high-end meals like steak and lobster. “We’ve got two nutrition gals that have done an outstanding job with our football team and are there educating the guys on the things to eat and how they can change their habits to put the good fuel in their body,” he said. “For us it’s about the availability of the food – the fuel – and our administration has done an outstanding job of not limiting us, but there again we’re not steak and lobster every night or whatever by any stretch of the imagination.”
McElwain also made it be known that food is available not only in the banquet room and dining halls across campus but inside his office, too. And what food is it that McElwain is serving? Only the best sandwich in the land.
“I actually make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when they’re up there,” he began. “I taught them how to get it right to the edge like my mother used to do. My mom took pride in buttering toast and got all the way to the edges and same thing on the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
A very important component of sandwich construction, indeed. Why waste even a millimeter of space on a slice of bread when there is peanut butter and jelly left in the jars?
“You focus on making sure that you get it all the way to the crust, and then of course I did that and Antonio Callaway doesn’t like crust – so I had to cut the crust off. It’s a true story.”
Antonio, Crust is made of the exact same ingredients as the bread. It also has more antioxidants and nutrients in it than the bread itself due to the baking process. Wake up, dude.
McElwain then doubled down on his sandwich-making abilities. “You’ll be impressed at the quality of it, too,” he claimed.
The entire discussion soon derailed with a reporter – gasp – bringing up the abomination known as Uncrustables. That’s when McElwain proved that while he may be a good football coach and understands the importance of spreading peanut butter to the edges of the bread, he really knows nothing about quality sandwiches.
“Here’s the great thing about Uncrustables – and I’m a firm believer in this and the nutrition gals really get on me about this – I’m a firm believer in the longer the shelf life the better it’s going to taste,” he said, starting down a dark path. “And I don’t think Uncrustables have shelf life; therefore, that’s a heck of a sandwich. Twinkies, Ding Dongs, sustainable foods – I like that.”
Twinkies and Ding Dongs? A case can be made. Uncrustables? Stop. The. Madness.