Friday Final: One year later, Saban protege McElwain leads Gators into tough SEC title test

By Adam Silverstein
December 4, 2015

We’re back with the last regular-season edition of Florida Football Friday Final, as takes a last look at the No. 18 Florida Gators before they take on the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2015 SEC Championship Game on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Gators (10-2) and Crimson Tide (11-1) will do battle with Florida not only a severe underdog but looking to play the role of spoiler to Alabama’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

If the 18-point spread was not enough indication, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain’s comments throughout the last week made it clear that his team is a substantial underdog entering Saturday’s 2015 SEC Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

“We’re the underdog?! No way. Are you kidding me? You’re kidding me. Really? People don’t believe we’re going to win? Who controls that? The people putting money down, right? OK, gotcha,” he said Wednesday.

But it is not just one side of the ball where McElwain feels the Gators are at a disadvantage. No, in order for Florida to win Saturday’s game, the coach believes his team will have to play completely against tendency and try to out-scheme Alabama and its coach, Nick Saban. Yes, he knows that is almost an impossible task, especially with such a young program.

“Everything we do tendency-wise, we got to do opposite, because if we don’t they’ll be on it,” he said. “I’ve seen them work, man. These guys are really good at what they do.”

McElwain is not sure if Florida can prepare for a team like Alabama in one week’s time but promised Monday that the Gators would do their best to take advantage of all opportunities. “We just can’t sit there and be target practice for these creatures. They are creatures,” he said.

At the same time, he spent the entire week openly joking about the Crimson Tide’s coaching, roster and overwhelming advantages entering Saturday’s game.

McElwain said Florida’s offensive linemen would likely have their knees shaking while watching game film of Alabama’s defensive front seven. In order to get those Gators to practice, McElwain laughed at the idea the lengths to which offensive line coach Mike Summers might have to go. “He’s trying to coax them out of the meeting room after they watch [the film]. Put carrots in front of them today,” he said.

Defensively, McElwain believes what Saban and defensive coordinator (and future Georgia head coach) Kirby Smart do is actually “rocket science. … The way they break it down and what they know before you know is fascinating.”

When asked Friday whether Florida planned to run some special or trick plays in order to get Alabama off balance defensively, he could only sit and laugh. “How are you going to trick them?” he asked with a wide grin. “When you watch them play on [defense], they are complete in what they do. And each one of them, they complement each other because they do their job.”

So how will the Gators attack the Tide exactly? “For us, it’s got to be one of those deals where, look, stay out of negative plays, and give yourself an opportunity to just kind of chip away at it a little bit. They are really good,” McElwain said.

McElwain also scoffed at the notion that there are any secrets to Saban’s success, noting that the coach simply has qualities – including discipline and self-drive – that allow him to be an achiever. In the same respect, he dismissed a comment that referred to Saban as a problem for the SEC because his success is running other coaches out of the league. “A ‘Nick Saban problem?’ What’s wrong with him?” said a sarcastic McElwain.

So even as he and Florida prepare to go up against a guy in Saban who took “a chance on a no-name guy” at Alabama just a handful of years ago, McElwain is confident in how well the Gators will perform, due in large part to lessons learned from one of his mentors on how to mentally prepare a team set to go into battle.

“The Florida Gators – and being a Gator – carries a little extra. Because you’re one of those Gators, it should never matter what you’re up against,” he began.

“There’s a certain sense of – it’s not cocky – it’s calm and it’s a belief. That’s something our guys are kind of starting to learn through what has been put to them from the past. That’s why this team is so special because they’ve realized that they’re not going to take it.

“We’re the Florida Gators; let’s go do it.”

Injury updates: McElwain listed two sophomores with foot injuries, wide receiver Brandon Powell and left tackle David Sharpe, as questionable for Saturday’s game. Powell was supposedly in a boot on Thursday and Friday, while McElwain said Sharpe didn’t look very good during practice on Thursday.

Notes and bits:

McElwain on whether junior WR Demarcus Robinson will play: “He’ll get a few snaps out there. … It will be fun to see him come out here and play.”

McElwain on predicting sophomore quarterback Treon Harris would have a great week of practice: “I’ve never really been good at predicting. [Laughing] But no, he’s been good. He’ll come out and play his tail off, as all our guys will. I’m excited for him.”

McElwain on playing for the SEC title as his one-year anniversary present at Florida: “It’s gone awful fast. … It’s been so much fun seeing the development of the program, of our players, of the people around the program. When you sit back and reflect just a little bit, we’ve come a long ways, but how far we’re going to go is what’s probably the most exciting part of it.”

McElwain on why Alabama running back Derrick Henry is so good: “His size, not only height, obviously how he carries the weight that he carries, but here is the amazing thing is the amount of yards after somebody had first tried to tackle him — and I say tried, because they weren’t very successful. His amount of yards after contact are amazing. … His blocking is outstanding. He’s becoming a good — check him on the screens in the check downs. He’s becoming really a complete player, and all the things people are saying about him are all true. The guy is a real player and a real guy. We’ve got our hands full with that one.”

McElwain on junior running back Kelvin Taylor’s tremendous season: “What he’s done, and he keeps getting a little bit better at it, is understanding the patience he needs to the hole and then accelerate with speed through the hole. I think early, he was running so hard and so fast, sometimes he wasn’t letting things develop. … Obviously his numbers, he’s I think done some things that will put him right up there historically as one of the real great Florida running backs.”

McElwain on whether Harris will run more in the game: “He may be running anyway just naturally for his life.”

McElwain on freshman WR Antonio Callaway: “He’s energized us and he is a true playmaker. He’s a get-it-to-guy and we’re going to make sure he gets his touches.”

One Comment

  1. Timmy T says:

    Gators shock the world….24-17. Book it!!!!!

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