Looking back on winning the SEC East title and ahead to Saturday’s game against the South Carolina Gamecocks, head coach Jim McElwain of the No. 10 Florida Gators (8-1, 6-1 SEC) met with the media to discuss his offense’s struggles, defense’s successes and all the things going both right and wrong for the Gators through the first 10 weeks of the season.
It may have been ugly, but it was still a win. McElwain began his postgame press conference Saturday by apologizing to fans for “one of those tough wins to sit through. That said, he also praised those in attendance for giving the Gators more than enough energy to fight through the adversity and win the SEC East. “I’m not sure we deserved to win, and yet our guys found out a way to win. I stress it again: Sometimes you got to figure things out, and our guys figured it out. That’s a heck of a deal,” he began. “Let’s face it: We stole one. … They’re probably gonna arrest me out the door for stealing. … It’s not like I’m real excited about the performance.”
On Monday, McElwain took a different approach. Rather than criticize Florida’s offensive effort, he said the Gators put forward “probably as dominant of a performance in special teams and defense as I’ve ever been involved with.” Florida finished when it needed to and did not go overboard celebrating in the locker room after the game, knowing that there’s still a good amount of unfinished business left to accomplish.
“Gators around the country should be excited about where these guys have come and how far they’ve come to help this university be to where it should be and help this football program get back to where it belongs,” the coach said.
OK, but the offensive line really struggled. Going up against one of the top 25 defenses in the nation, the Gators’ front five was finally overmatched to the point that it severely impacted Florida’s ability to move the ball and pull off a potential victory. McElwain said sophomore quarterback Treon Harris “didn’t have a chance back there” in the pocket and called the effort of the offensive line “rather embarrassing” as a whole.
“For the most part, we were on the right guys. Our assignments might not have been the issue as much as the execution and the finish of the assignment,” he said. “It’s rather embarrassing, actually. And yet, that goes back to being proud of what you put on film.”
McElwain also did not go out of his way to praise Harris, who is now 20 of 43 for 313 yards with one touchdown and one interception in his last two starts. Putting it simply, McElwain said Harris has “done some really good things” but also others “that [he] continues to need to work on,” though ultimately he is doing enough “to help us win ballgames.”
Can ‘the kicker’ turn it around? McElwain does not like to refer to his kickers by name or offer them praise for what he perceives as doing their jobs. So when asked about redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin‘s career-long, game-winning 43-yard field goal on Saturday, that was the totality of the coach’s response.
“We expected him to make it,” said McElwain, noting that Hardin’s head gets cluttered sometimes, which is why he struggles on field goals but is so successful using his strong leg on kickoffs. “It’s just continue to work through that process,” the coach added Monday. “He was going to kick the deep ones, and the other guy was going to kick the short ones. He’s done a great job kicking off, obviously. That’s been a weapon for us. We just got to continue to do [build his confidence].”
Head Ball Coach makes a call. Florida-South Carolina for the last few years has held greater importance with former Gators head coach Steve Spurrier getting an opportunity to go up against his alma mater. With Spurrier retiring and no longer directly affiliated with the Gamecocks, he went out of his way to call McElwain following the Georgia game, as the coach mentioned Monday.
“Yeah, [I’ve heard from him] a couple times. What was great was he gave a call. You know, that means a lot. It did. I enjoyed it. I look forward to this, you know, getting out of the way and then where I get in and really pick his brain,” McElwain said.
“That guy’s a Gator, man.”
Back to the South Carolina though, McElwain said this is yet another opponent that Florida will not overlook. Though USC is 3-6 and seventh in the SEC East, McElwain correctly noted that the team has “been in” most of its games this season. “I don’t want to be that guy that lets them get over the hump,” he explained.
As to whether Spurrier will be in attendance when Florida and South Carolina square off? He told the Associated Press Monday that it is “not my place” to be at those games anymore.
Notes and bits
McElwain on redshirt junior defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. and the improvement he’s showed this season: “Both he and CeCe [Jefferson], taking an extra role for us on offense in our gray package, is something that, man, those guys are giving everything they’ve got. In his case, this guy loves to play the game. He plays the game the way you should – with an effort and an intensity on that given down, as hard as he can go. That’s a credit to him. In turn, guys see that on film. We always talk about being proud of what you put on film. Your film is your resume. It’s what’s out there forever. He truly can be proud of what he puts on film because of how hard he plays.”
McElwain on redshirt freshman DL Thomas Holley, who has been dealing with a chronic hip injury: “I haven’t really mentioned him only because, that hip deal, he’s probably on the shelf.”
McElwain on his new white oxford shirt with a “Fast F” logo: “It’s a fashion statement. It’s one of those things … I guarantee, in Montana, I’m not known for fashion statements.” [Explains that it was a gift. Did it come from Jeremy Foley?] “Nah, I wish that tight sumbitch would’ve given me it. I say that affectionately.”