The Gators are leaning on a large number of inexperienced players this season, and this will be the first road trip for the freshmen. Florida flies to Kentucky early Friday afternoon, and while coach Jim McElwain joked about needing to make sure the freshmen know how to tie their ties, the bigger concern is getting them ready to be the enemy at a sold out Commonwealth Stadium.
“Every person, every athlete, every competitor is different in different arenas,” McElwain said. “Some thrive on the negative environment, just get that more juiced up to go play. I hope we take the ‘us against the whole crew.’”
McElwain saw early last week in practice that the focus wasn’t where it needed to be. The Gators were late to meetings and unprepared to practice. The Florida coach ripped into them in his postgame press conference and said his team needed to learn how to pay attention to the small details.
This week has been better. Florida had three strong days of practice before going through its perfect Thursday routine. They’re rallying around being the team fans in Lexington will hate on Saturday.
"There's a lot of things that pull a unit together, pull an organization together,” McElwain said. “In this case you've got to be tight when you go on the road because it's all you have -- the guys that are on that bus. I just know this that their approach has been good. They haven't been straggling in. They're in their seats ready to go. They're focused.”
TAYLOR HANDLING DEMOTION
After Kelvin Taylor’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty last weekend against East Carolina, he was moved down to the third team running back with Jordan Cronkrite or Jordan Scarlett listed as the starter. Cronkrite worked with the first team in practice while Taylor was with the second team.
McElwain said Taylor completed a strong week in practice and would still be heavily involved with the Gators’ running game on Saturday.
“What a great teammate Kelvin Taylor is,” McElwain said. “He is a guy that doesn’t miss anything. He’s always there early. It’s important to him. His teammates respect the heck out of him and that’s what you want. I’m sure glad he’s on our team. He’s a wonderful guy to be around and it’s important to him. The other great thing there, too, is the Gators mean a lot to him. A lot. That’s pretty cool.”
HAPPY WITH THE PASS RUSH
The stats show five sacks for the Florida defense through two games, but McElwain said he believes they’ve been more active than that. The staff tracks times the defensive line impacts the quarterback instead of sacks or tackles for loss, and the Gators have done a good job of that so far.
“I really felt although we didn’t maybe get sacks, we were always right there, and I’m not so sure that cumulative effect didn’t have something to do with that last play,” McElwain said of ECU quarterback Blake Kemp fumbling without being touched. “I know playing the position, it’s not a lot of fun sitting there getting blasted time and time again. It kind of takes its toll no matter how tough you are. Our guys are creating a tight pocket and we need to do that to be successful obviously against this offense.
“(The Kentucky game) is one that we’re definitely going to have to affect the passer.”
HARGREAVES AN IMPORTANT PIECE AS RETURNER
When Florida special teams coach Greg Nord was watching the unit during spring practice, he wanted to make sure Vernon Hargreaves III understood how important he was as a punt returner.
Nord has been around some impact players in the return game. He pointed to former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and current Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb as the two best returners he has been around in his career, and Nord said on Wednesday that he puts Hargreaves in the same group with them.
“He’s an elite athlete, great player,” Nord said. “You saw on offense we stole him for a couple packages. When he got hurt, some of those packages were shelved for a little. If he’s well and ready to go and play, then we’re going to use him all over the field. He’s a great player.”