Kan Li / Scout.com

Florida Gators cornerback Jalen Tabor scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career

The Florida secondary needed someone to step up without its All-American on Saturday.

With Vernon Hargreaves III sidelined after he suffered a leg injury in practice on Thursday, Tabor knew he would have to play well. He ended the game with three tackles, two pass breakups and the biggest defensive play of the game -- an interception returned 39 yards for a touchdown.

Tabor jumped a route on the East Carolina sideline, made the catch and sprinted to the end zone with no one between him and his first career touchdown.

“I just got a good read and just got a great pick,” Tabor said, noting that it was a playing ECU used a lot in the first half.

The pressure without Hargreaves was real, and Tabor could see the secondary slipping in the early part of the game. ECU won the toss and wanted to receive, then took the ball on an eight-play, 75-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead before the Gators had a chance.

“Without (Hargreaves), you could see it early on the first drive, they hit us up a little bit,” Tabor said. “You could tell his presence was definitely missed. But he was on the sideline encouraging us, so we definitely cleaned it up after the first drive.”

While the secondary tried to clean up some of their issues, the entire team had plenty of them. Florida committed 12 penalties for 105 total yards, sending McElwain into multiple sideline tirades.

Discipline has been an important topic for McElwain since he took over in Gainesville. Over the last 10 years, the Gators have committed to most penalties in the Southeastern Conference and that jumped out to McElwain. After they committed just one penalty in the season opener last week, the Gators looked undisciplined on Saturday.

McElwain’s frustration on the sideline carried into his postgame conversation with the team.

“(He was) very upset,” Tabor said. “A lot of penalties. He felt like we could have done a lot better. We made the game a lot harder than we needed to make it.”

McElwain said the team looked full of itself on Monday, buying into the hype they built in the season-opening blowout of New Mexico State. Tabor agreed with that on Saturday, admitting that the team needs to do a better job of handling success in the future.

“We just came off a big win, felt like we did something,” Tabor said. “You always get hyped for the first game of the season. The second game is just like, it’s supposed to be easy. I felt like the attitude wasn’t right. We’re definitely going to clean it up going into next week.”

McElwain wasn’t calm on the sideline when the penalties happened. He was caught by television cameras multiple times exploding on players that lost their cool and committed selfish penalties. That’s what set him off on the sideline, catching the attention of the players.

“I love that approach just because he’s going to set the tone,” Tabor said. “This is his team. He is going to run it how he wants it to be run. If you’re not cooperating there’s punishments for your action.” 

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