We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where OnlyGators.com takes a last look at the No. 11 Florida Gators as they prepare an important showdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.
Florida (8-1, 6-1 SEC) and South Carolina (3-6, 1-6 SEC) will do battle as the Gators look to preserve their momentum and the Gamecocks try to turn around their season work their way back to bowl eligibility for the eighth straight year.
This week on OnlyGators.com
Column: Yes, the Gators are on a title run
Practice update: Offensive struggles, defensive successes
Injury updates: Defensive injuries could leave Florida short-handed
Column: Jim McElwain was exactly what the Gators needed
Injury updates: With McElwain’s mid-week press conference not providing much in the way of information, but he did offer some updates on a number of players with injuries. While McElwain said junior safety Keanu Neal (foot) and sophomore tackle David Sharpe (foot) were both cleared top lay, he listed senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard as “highly questionable” with his undisclosed arm injury. However, during his radio show on Wednesday, McElwain noted that Bullard would travel with the Gators to South Carolina and be a game-time decision for the contest.
Curious case of D-Rob: What is one to make of Gators junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, a player that has proven to be both electric and head-scratching – often on separate occasions but sometimes simultaneously. The only thing consistent about Robinson to this point has been his inconsistency. One week, he’ll get completely shut out; the next, he’ll lead Florida in receiving and make those watching wonder why he’s not open and catching balls more often. On one play, he’ll avoid tackling and run out of bounds rather than gaining a couple extra yards; on the next, he’ll fight and claw despite being surrounded by four defenders, only to fumble the ball into the air and turn it over.
“He made some plays and then obviously felt horrible. You guys have seen this guy play for how long now. His ball security is something we talk every single day about. There’s no excuse for the fumble,” McElwain said. “Now, it’s his choice to carry the ball that way. He gives us a chance because he’s a good player, but he’s also got to understand that as you go through life there’s about doing some things right to maybe help the people around you. It isn’t all about you. He’s a good player. He cares. Hopefully, he’s learned.”
Despite the external – and internal – criticism, Robinson has drawn praise from McElwain and his teammates, specifically regarding how far he’s come with the new coaching staff. “[Last year], they just lined him up over to the bench side and told him what to run every play,” McElwain stated. “Is that how you go through life? You’re just going to enable that type of behavior? I don’t believe in that because there is more to him and he’s a smart guy and he cares.”
McElwain preceded that insightful statement with some praise for the player affectionately known as D-Rob. “I tell you, I think he’s probably come farther than anyone on our football team as far as … he’s got a great attitude,” he said. “This guy loves to practice, loves to play. He played his tail off in that game, and it showed. I guess the greatest thing is he’s seeing that he can [succeed]. But really, it’s his choice. I’ve told all the scouts that come through, this guy has come farther than any guy in our program, and I’m proud of him.”
Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris said Florida specifically tried to get Robinson the ball last Saturday so he could “make plays with his feet” after hauling in short passes. Similar to McElwain, he said Robinson “loves to play football” and “loves the game” but his ball security has always been an issue. “He cannot hold the ball with his left hand,” Harris noted.
“D-Rob’s a guy I’m really proud of, really impressed with,” redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee added. “He’s a guy that’s really bought in and done a complete 180. He’s an invested teammate and a guy that guys like to be around.”
Robinson’s inconsistency has kept his production down, to the point that many would expect him to return to the Gators in 2016. Whether that winds up being the case, it would behoove him to make the most of his final five or six games of 2015.
Big win but not enough: Senior defensive back Brian Poole is glad Florida won the SEC East, but he referred to the accomplishment as “not really our ultimate goal” on Monday. What does Poole want? “Our ultimate goal is the national championship,” he continued. “[Winning the SEC East] felt kind of good to get that out the way, but now it’s about focusing on the bigger picture. We’re the Gators. We want to win national championships, not just SEC East championships.”
To that end, McElwain made a quick pivot from Vanderbilt to South Carolina this week. He first expressed his disappointment over the Gators being “result-oriented” against the Commodores rather than creating the results they wanted; then, he transitioned to noting that the Gamecocks have “owned” them as of late.
“They’re still playing for a lot,” said McElwain of South Carolina, something equally true about Florida.
“The season’s not over, man. Everybody’s got to do their part. Everybody’s just go to focus on themselves and our team,” junior running back Kelvin Taylor said. “We’ve got to keep building from this point on, be hungrier and hungrier. People were not looking for us to get to Atlanta at all, so I’m sure once we get there, people won’t be hoping for us to win, either.”
Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison said the Gators are only looking as far as the next day. “That’s how you got to do it. You got to go day by day,” he explained. “You can’t just jump. Those games are gonna come. Coach Mac always says, ‘Saturday’s gonna come.’ It’s what you do all the way up to Saturday [that matters].”
Notes and bits:
Taylor on the team’s performance vs. Vanderbilt: “We felt embarrassed ourselves. We know we’re way better than that.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. on what he said when McElwain asked him to play fullback and special teams: “’Sure. I’ll do it, yeah.’ I play it all. I try to have my value out on the team.”
McElwain on redshirt junior DB Marcus Maye: “Marcus has done an outstanding job. [Lining up at linebacker sometimes] shows his versatility and his value. … He [has] played unselfish and that’s cool to see.”
McElwain on redshirt junior DE Alex McCalister: “This guy can be as good as he wants.” Points to his great first step.”
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press