East Carolina opened the game with an eight-play, 75-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. After that, things changed quickly. The Pirates ran 72 plays for 258 yards over the rest of the game, averaging just 3.6 yards per play.
They forced turnovers when needed, as Jalen Tabor made a key play on an interception returned for a touchdown that gave the Gators a 24-14 lead. Florida also forced three fumbles on defense while recovering two of them.
“For the most part, I thought the defense did a heck of a job,” McElwain said. “(The defense) gave up a couple plays here and there. Obviously, you look at it, they scored the winning touchdown with the interception.”
The Gators were without All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (leg) and starting safety Keanu Neal (leg) on Saturday night. Both went through warm ups before the game and didn’t look to be limited. Without them, McElwain was happy with how the secondary held up.
Tabor said the group was pressing during the first drive of the game without Hargreaves, the unit’s leader, on the field. However, they adjusted and McElwain thought they played well the rest of the way.
“They did a great job,” McElwain said. “They gave up a couple of plays here and there. We didn’t expect a drop off (without Hargreaves). You lose arguably one of the best players in college football. You know things are going to take a step backwards, there’s no reason.
“Most guys stepped up, played good and competed. You never worry about who’s not there. That’s not how you go about doing things. You do with what you have and you go out and play your tail off and I thought that’s what those guys did.”
McElwain said Hargreaves tweaked his leg on Thursday. They thought he could get through the injury and play on Saturday, but the staff felt after warm ups that he wasn’t able to play. Hargreaves was running up and down the sideline while waving a towel when the Florida defense would create a big play. The leg certainly didn’t seem to bother him then.
During the game, linebacker Alex Anzalone came out with a right shoulder injury. McElwain referenced a previous injury for the linebacker, who had surgery on it in the spring of 2013.
“We won’t know until afterwards, but obviously (he) wasn’t able to finish the game,” McElwain said.
McElwain’s postgame tirade about his team’s undisciplined play has received a lot of publicity since the game ended, but the focus for the team is now on moving forward.
The Gators will meet together as a team on Monday with hopes of getting off to a better start than last week did.
“Correct the mistakes,” McElwain said about his plan moving forward. “Bury it, tear out the rearview mirror and get ready to go play a very good Kentucky team on the road that arguably beat us a year ago here. (They’re) going to have a lot of confidence. New stadium, new facilities, a lot energy. I’m sure right now they’re going to look at this and say ‘you know what we can beat these guys.’”