While the No. 8 Florida Gators may have bigger fish to fry going forward, head coach Jim McElwain made it clear this week that the team is not looking ahead this week but rather focused on its upcoming opponent, the Florida Atlantic Owls.
But when the Gators and Owls line up on Saturday at noon in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida will be shorthanded with as many as four linemen on the shelf for the game.
Over the last three days, McElwain has announced that redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister (foot) and redshirt sophomore DE Jordan Sherit (hamstring) will miss Saturday’s game, joining junior defensive lineman Joey Ivie (knee) on the sideline. On Wednesday, McElwain added another name to the injury list when he noted that sophomore left tackle David Sharpe re-injured the foot that’s had him hobbled as of late and was doubtful to face FAU.
Sharpe’s absence should not affect the Gators in a major way against the Owls and keeping him off the field may very well help speed up his recovery for Florida’s pivotal game against Florida State in two weeks.
Redshirt freshmen Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark and Justus Reed saw additional action last week on defense with Ivie hobbled and will see even more time on Saturday with McCalister and Sherit out of action. McElwain has praised Clark’s effort in practice as of late, referring to him as a “glass-eater, fire-breather [and] Wardaddy” for his efforts on the field.
According to McElwain, the Gators will need those players to step up against a Florida Atlantic team that he believes will be plenty motivated to upset Florida.
“Our guys understand the type of talent they have. There’s 53 people intertwined in this game from both sides that went to the same [high] schools. There’s a ton to prove for guys, and they know how hard these guys will play. And they’ve got some weapons,” he said of FAU.
“I think the thing that strikes you when you watch the film is the overall team speed that this team has. Obviously you would think that based on a lot of their guys being down from South Florida and obviously the state of Florida. They’ve done a really good job of assembling really good team speed.”
McElwain believes the Owls have studied the Gators’ film and seen how susceptible Florida has been to the running quarterback this season. “We still haven’t stopped that,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us there.”
FAU redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) has shown an ability to make plays with his feet, but certainly not to the level that Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs did against Florida.
But McElwain believes the Owls’ talents go beyond a running signal caller. Namely, FAU likes to run trick plays, which UF has been beaten by on numerous occasions in 2015.
“This is a team that, with what they do with the art of deception, what they do with a lot of the different things they do on special teams, obviously on offense with the gadgets and defense with the different type looks, it really creates discipline, and you’ve got to be focused. I don’t think we were that today,” McElwain said, noting that the Gators “fell off” with their focus in the middle of the week. “It’s Wednesday. We have a chance for a Perfect Thursday and a Focus Friday to get that corrected, and we will. But I will say this: Our guys are practicing pretty darn hard and that’s good to see.”
Notes and bits
» McElwain on the program not letting up after seeing success: “Once you think you arrive and you just sit there and don’t continually strive to get better and discover, that’s when things kind of start to fall apart. We’ve got to do that not only as a football team, we’ve got to continue to do that as an organization and continually evaluate and understand we don’t have all the answers and you can’t just sit where you’re at. You’ve got to constantly move forward.”
» McElwain on whether sophomore quarterback Treon Harris is making any progress: “I thought our efficiency in throwing the football was a little bit better. He’s obviously got a couple he’d want back and missed a couple. … There’s things I think he’s seeing. I think he moved up in the pocket much better in this game rather than just trying to bail out one way or the other. So I think his pocket awareness, shuffling and finding throwing angles, was a little better.”
» McElwain on junior running back Kelvin Taylor’s solid season: “He continues to strive to get better. He’s a guy that actually does a great job of the self-evaluation. … Kelvin’s a guy that truly dives into [the film] and sometimes is more critical of himself than [he] should be. He’s always self-evaluating. Really good players are honest with themselves, and he’s done a good job of that.”
» McElwain on sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby’s turnaround: “He has probably learned over the last four weeks the importance of what you do in practice helps you in the game. It’s been great to see, because he’s had a couple really great weeks of practice – effort, attention to detail, speed at which he’s trying to do it, finish. … The behavior in which you practice and how you practice usually shows up on Saturday in your production.”
» McElwain on whether there is an effort to give specific players additional touches on a week to week basis: “Take what the defense gives you, and eventually they give you the game.”