Jim McElwain has talked multiple times about situational football since taking the job at Florida, and his team showed why on Saturday. The Gators hit a familiar play -- one they work on every day in practice – to extend their winning streak to 11 games over Tennessee an improbable 28-27 win.
To the coaches and players, it’s known as ‘train right Jill, Big Ben in.’ To Florida fans, it’s known as history.
It’s two deep in routes, one run at the first-down marker and the other run past it. The slot receiver’s job is to clear out the middle of the field, opening it up for the receivers to be open and pick up the first down.
That’s what Antonio Callaway did, running the same route he has run since the true freshman’s first day of fall camp. Instead of ending the game with a turnover on downs, Callaway ended the game with a 63-yard touchdown reception. With as many times as the Gators have run it in practice, McElwain has seen it go for a first down. But that’s it.
“I haven’t seen it go for a touchdown, but I’m sure glad it did,” the Florida coach said, grinning ear-to-ear.
Before getting too deep into the play, McElwain stopped himself and wanted to point out where most of the credit belongs. Grier delivered a strike on the play, Callaway made the catch and outran the defense. But it was fellow receiver Brandon Powell that changed the play.
He came from behind the play and cleaned out two Tennessee defenders that had angles on Callaway, allowing his to sprint up the sideline to the end zone.
“To me, Brandon probably had more to do with that play because he had to clear out the middle,” McElwain said. “That’s great to see.”
When the Gators ran the play in practice, they do so in a similar two-minute situation. However, they simulate it on an ‘alert down,’ meaning the receiver that catches the football is supposed to fall down immediately and help the Gators set up a field goal with little time left. The situation called for something different on Saturday, and Callaway delivered.
“The young kid, my little brother just made a hell of a play,” quarterback Will Grier said of Callaway. “He’s another guy that stepped up and is making a lot of plays. He turned that first down into a touchdown."
Tight end Jake McGee added, “He showed his skills that I think you’ll see for a long time to come here.”
The touchdown wasn’t a surprise to Callaway. He called it to McElwain before the game happened. The freshman’s prediction was that he would score a touchdown on a punt return, and while that wasn’t how it happened, he still found a way to the end zone.
Callaway was so sure the touchdown was coming that he asked McElwain to practice a chest bump during the week of practice.
“I don’t know that I can get up that high anymore,” McElwain said.
Callaway ended the game with five catches for 112 yards and one touchdown and has cemented himself as the best playmaker of the Florida receivers.
“I like him a whole bunch and I’m sure glad he’s a Gator,” McElwain said. “We knew there was something special in this kid when we started recruiting him. I think he’s proven that. I don’t think he’s scratched the surface. He’s still learning how to play.”