When the ball slipped out of East Carolina quarterback Blake Kemp’s hands, McCalister picked up the ball and had his eyes on the end zone 70 yards away. With no East Carolina players around him, McCalister started to sprint for the end zone.
Jarrad Davis’ mind was on drills in that same situation during practice. The coaches had pounded into the players’ heads that they needed to go down and not risk anything happening that could give the ball back to the other team. Davis made sure nothing went wrong, wrapping his arms around McCalister and bringing him to the ground.
“It’s something that you just never know what can happen,” Davis said. “We got the lead and the game is over. He can score easily, but we’ve just been harping on going down in those situations. Just seal the game and let the offense come out do the victory formation, and we can go strike the band up and everybody can go home with the ‘W.’”
The obvious risk is forcing a fumble. And that’s why Davis approached the situation differently than trying to tackle the opponent.
“That was scary,” Davis said with a smile. “I tried to bear hug him.”
Davis bringing McCalister sealed the game for Florida, finishing a 31-24 win over East Carolina for the second time in the team’s last three games. Listening to Florida coach Jim McElwain’s press conference, it sounded like one that usually comes after a loss.
McElwain ripped his team for committing 12 penalties for 105 yards. The Gators committed one penalty in the season opener against New Mexico State, and it came on a punt return late in the fourth quarter. Saturday was different, as Florida committed unsportsmanlike penalties and had multiple procedural issues.
Davis echoed McElwain’s belief that Saturday’s issues started early in the week with poor preparation by the players.
“Monday was very weird for us,” Davis said. “It felt like old times. It felt like we kind of reverted back. We got comfortable. We were really lazy on Monday as a team. Guys weren’t getting taped and guys were late to meetings. Coach McElwain pretty much whipped us on Monday. It showed in the game. We started slow. We could have come out and really lit up the scoreboard on these guys, but we started slow and they hung around with us. We should have been able to execute and not even have to worry about these guys. But the week started that way and that’s the way the game started.”
Davis expanded on his comment about it feeling like old times.
“In prior years, we would get a win and we would get really excited,” Davis said. “We would get comfortable. When you get comfortable, you don’t really feel the need to really work and progress. You might want to just stay the same. That’s kind of how we came in on Monday. But coach Mac did a great job of getting onto us and letting us know that’s not cool. We have to go out and get better every day.”
“Everything you do on Saturday night, yeah it’s going to be blown up and you’re going to get the fame for that. But it’s what you do Monday through Friday to get ready for Saturday night.”
McElwain’s frustration in his press conference came after sharing that with the team in the locker room. He got on them early in the week for their lack of preparation, warning them that it could back to hurt the team with a lackluster performance against East Carolina.
When that exact outcome occurred, he pointed it out in the locker room immediately after the game, noting that the only positive was that the team found a way to win the game.
“He was really upset about that this game,” Davis said. “Seeing him on the sideline, exploding like that. Coach Mac is a cool coach, but that’s pretty much the first time I really ever saw him get upset like that. The first day he came in, before we started camp, that was one of the biggest things he pointed out. We’re a team that was last in the SEC in penalty yardage.
“We just fell back to our old ways. We kind of reverted back to that this week. That’s something we have to work on. We play Kentucky next week. If we have 12 (penalties) for 100 (yards) like that, that’s going to end up hurting us next week. Those guys are doing big things."