Catching up with the Gators as Florida’s must-win game vs. Tennessee approaches

By Adam Silverstein
September 14, 2017
Catching up with the Gators as Florida’s must-win game vs. Tennessee approaches

Image Credit: ESPN Images

Nearly 30 hours of driving and one week later, is back up and running at full capacity following Hurricane Irma. And just like the Florida Gators themselves, we are in the middle of a cramming session to prepare for what is a must-win game for head coach Jim McElwain on Saturday.

With all of that in mind, let’s take some quick-hitter looks at everything having to do with the Gators and the Florida-Tennessee game ahead of Saturday’s showdown.

All systems go

Despite there being consideration toward the idea of moving the UF-UT game due to after effects of Hurricane Irma, it will ultimately be played as scheduled at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. In addition to the city seemingly being in good enough shape to host the game, the Gators would have been faced with losing a fifth home game in just three seasons had they left town (Idaho in 2014, LSU and Presbyterian in 2016, Northern Colorado in 2017). Not ideal either for the team or for the local businesses. Tennessee is reportedly sending two dozen offers to Gainesville in order to help with security.

On the move

McElwain announced Wednesday that offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will return to the booth after beginning the season on the field calling the offense. Nussmeier made the move down last season, but with Florida’s offense remaining ineffective, the move is being made back to the confines of the booth. “We’ve got guys down on the sideline that handle the direct communications, just like the first year. He’ll be able to communicate with those guys between series on the headsets, that kind of stuff,” said McElwain. “It’s him being able to see it in a sterile environment. That will help.”

After refusing to acknowledge that a change in play caller was even a consideration following the loss to Michigan, McElwain has at least recognized that some adjustment needed to be made. Whether that results in the Gators performing better offensively remains to be seen, of course.

Limited personnel changes

In terms of the depth chart and player availability for Week 3, little has been adjusted. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will start at quarterback. The nine players indefinitely suspended — including juniors wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett — are still out. Though freshman WR James Robinson was reinstated following a marijuana suspension, a heart issue was discovered and he remains sidelined and unable to play.

In fact, the only player of significance who saw action in the opener but will not suit up Saturday is redshirt sophomore linebacker Kylan Johnson, who did not start but was on the field for plenty of snaps and totaled four tackles. Tight ends senior DeAndre Goolsby and freshman Kemore Gamble are both expected to be active after dealing with injury concerns, sophomore defensive back Chauncey Gardner was cleared last week and redshirt senior DB Nick Washington will play through a nagging shoulder injury.

Seeking revenge, avoiding 0-2

Florida football has not started a season worse than 1-1 since 1984 when it began 0-1-1. It has not started 0-2 since 1971, a year in which it began 0-5 but finished 4-2. Up until 2016, the Gators had won 11 straight games over the Volunteers, though that changed with a disastrous 38-28 loss in Knoxville, Tennessee, in which UT scored 38 consecutive points turning a 21-3 halftime deficit into a 38-21 lead with 8:27 to play. This one year after Florida and Callaway – who will miss the game — earned a walk-off 28-27 victory in Gainesville.

Tennessee has not beaten Florida in The Swamp since 2003 and is just 2-13 in the stadium since 1977. In a game that has become the Gators’ home opener, one in which they have their backs up against the wall after being embarrassed two weeks ago in Texas, this is as must-win as a game can be this early in the season.

Cram session

Though Florida will be relatively well rested with an extra bye week, it did not get to spend that time practicing for Tennessee but rather avoiding the storm. Even this week, the Gators were unable to begin preparations on time and will be working from behind to get ready for a rivalry tilt at home. McElwain related the shortened schedule to what he used to do at Colorado State getting set for a mid-week game.

“Cramming it in is probably a good way to put it. No matter how hard you focused on what was about to come up, as the battery power lasted on our computers or whatever, you’ve got to rely on your offseason breakdowns as well,” explained McElwain. “Our guys are going to go play hard. We are going to put a good thing together to give them an opportunity to play fast and release some of their energies and pent-up frustrations. And as we come out in The Swamp, I think our thoughts in this game go a lot farther than the selfish reasons you play a game, but more so the big-picture reasons you play a game and hopefully give some relief to some people whose lives have been changed forever.”

It has been more than 300 days since Florida played at home. The Gators will do so Saturday, travel to Kentucky next week and then get three straight games at The Swamp before their bye week. They have a great opportunity to get their home slate off on a solid foot.

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