At his introductory press conference, Jim McElwain let it be known that he was well aware of expectations – “It’s Florida,” he said – and not the least bit afraid of the pressure that comes with a fan base that has gotten spoiled by high levels of success for the better part of the past 25 years. What has become apparent through five games is that the confidence that oozed from McElwain on that first day is quietly taking over this Gator football team.
We saw it in the fourth quarter against Tennessee when the Gators rallied from 13 points down to score a 28-27 victory and we saw it bell-to-bell against then 3rd-ranked Ole Miss, a 38-10 beatdown that had The Swamp rocking like it hasn’t since the 2009 season. In both games the Gators matched the demeanor of the coach on the sideline with the kind of confidence that comes from focus and preparation.
Those two wins catapulted the Gators to #11 nationally heading into Saturday’s road trip to Missouri, which has beaten the Gators the last two seasons and captured the SEC East championship. While fan expectations are through the roof, McElwain has his own set of expectations that he expects his team to buy into, expectations based on the process of making sure each player looks at each day as an opportunity to get better.
"The interesting thing is the expectations are what you sign up for,” McElwain explained Wednesday morning on the SEC Coaches Teleconference. “If you don't have expectations of success, it's never going to happen. But, more so, what did you do and how did you do it to get you to have the success? Continually referring back to the historical precedents of your actions that have maybe helped you have a little bit of success is really what it's all about.
“You never know. Each day, each play, each game is an individual event and an opportunity to be proud of what you put on film. That's kind of what our guys are starting to see, maybe, a little bit, but at the same time, we'll find out this Saturday."
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: As well as the Gators have gotten after the passer this season (18 sacks for -147 yards so far) D-line coach Chris Rumph says his guys should have at least 25. “We’re not where we need to be right now,” Rumph said Wednesday. That’s bad news for future quarterbacks on the UF schedule.
ONE MORE WIN: The Gators will improve to 6-0 and become bowl eligible if they can beat Missouri Saturday night. Six wins would get the Gators to the Weedwacker or Birmingham bowls and each subsequent win means a better postseason venue.
LET’S HOPE …
I remember Marcus Lattimore as a freshman. In just the second game of his collegiate career in 2010 he ran over, under, around and through the Georgia Bulldogs for 182 yards and two touchdowns, breaking 42 tackles along the way. Later that year he absolutely destroyed the Florida Gators at The Swamp, carrying 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus was barely 19 years old but he was a man. Seven games into the 2011 season he already had accumulated 818 yards and 10 TDs when he tore an ACL for the first time. He came back in 2012 and was getting back to his old form when he dislocated his knee and tore every ligament against Tennessee.
A healthy Marcus Lattimore might have set records that nobody would have broken and led South Carolina to an SEC championship.
I bring that up because of Leonard Fournette, 20 years old and looking like a combination of Herschel, Bo and Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore gained 1,197 yards and scored 17 rushing touchdowns as a freshman. Fournette gained 1,034 yards and scored 15 TDs as a freshman last year. Now, four games into his sophomore year, Fournette has gained 864 yards and 11 touchdowns. People are already talking about what might be if he stays healthy the rest of this season and next year, which will surely be his last in Baton Rouge before he embarks on an NFL career.
I thought Marcus Lattimore was the best running back talent in the SEC in 20 years and as good as he was I think Fournette is even better. My hope is that Fournette will be like Jim Brown or Herschel, who were practically indestructible. Everybody knew they were going to get the ball, yet they gained the yards, took the hits and never seemed to get hurt. If he stays healthy, we might one day look back and say we saw someone who’s on the short list of the best that ever was. Let’s hope he stays healthy.
Alabama (4-1, 1-1 SEC): Everybody is taking Arkansas quite seriously this year. In 2014, the Crimson Tide’s worst offensive game of the year was the 14-13 win over Arkansas in Fayette-Nam. Alabama gained only 66 rushing yards and passed for 161. The margin of victory was a missed extra point.
Arkansas (2-3, 1-1 SEC): One of the tough things for a head coach in the SEC is to prepare for a trip to Alabama and Bryant-Denny Stadium. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Tuesday, “Nothing prepares you for this venue. This is one of the best I’ve ever been in, in college football. Not only do you have a great football team, you have a great crowd, great environment, very good coaching and some really good players on the field.
Auburn (3-2, 0-2 SEC): Apparently Gus Malzahn had no choice but to kick Duke Williams off the team. An employee of an Auburn bar told Al.com that following Auburn’s win over San Jose State last Saturday, Williams punched two security guards, a bartender assistant and a patron of the bar.
Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC): The loss to Alabama still lingers in the minds of the Georgia players and coaches, who, looking back, think the Bulldogs should have run the football more. “I think our best shot would have been to go downhill most of the time,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. Georgia did gain 223 rushing yards against Alabama but 147 of those yards including 83 by Nick Chubb on one carry were AFTER Alabama had a 24-3 lead and was in cruise control.
Kentucky (4-1, 2-1 SEC): It’s a bye week for the Wildcats, but they did get running back Stanley “Boom” Williams back. Williams was MIA against Eastern Kentucky while he was dealing with “personal issues.”
LSU (4-0, 2-0 SEC): The Tigers managed only 19 sacks in 13 games last year. They have 11 through four games, 9-½ by defensive linemen. Les Miles has been quick to praise D-line coach Ed Orgeron and coordinator Kevin Steele for the improvement. Miles said Wednesday, “I enjoy how they coach. I enjoy the results. I think our kids enjoy being coached by them. More importantly, you’re demanding to a point, and yet this is why. The ‘why’ issue is so important. You don’t just coach and not tell them why. Ed and Kevin both do a great job in describing ‘this is why we do it.'”
Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC): The Bulldogs are banged up a bit, but Dan Mullen is confident his backups can fill the gaps without a letdown in performance. “How we’ve built the program with some depth, when you have an injury come up the drop off in talent is not going to be as big as it was six years ago,” Mullen said. With a soft schedule for October all played in Starkville (non-conference with Troy and Louisiana Tech; SEC with Kentucky) the Bulldogs hope to be bowl-eligible heading into November.
Missouri (4-1, 1-1 SEC): Gary Pinkel says the difference in Florida this year and Florida last year is the play at quarterback by redshirt freshman Will Grier. “That, right now, is the difference,” Pinkel said on the SEC Coaches Teleconference. “They’ve had some ups and downs in the past at quarterback. He’s [Grier] really playing well. I’ve been very impressed.”
Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1 SEC): Winless New Mexico State is the Saturday opponent, so it’s a chance for Ole Miss to rest some banged up players plus shuffle some players around in both the secondary and along the offensive line. Hugh Freeze seems optimistic that Laremy Tunsil will be cleared by the NCAA to play soon. “From what I know, which is limited, I would think he’ll be back with us at some time,” Freeze said.
South Carolina (2-3, 0-3 SEC): Flooding in Columbia has forced South Carolina to move its Saturday game with LSU to Baton Rouge. The rescheduled game will be played at 3:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium. South Carolina will wear white jerseys and LSU will wear purple jerseys, the first time since 1996 the Tigers have worn something other than white for a home game.
Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Tennessee has the worst defense in the SEC (ranked 93rd nationally) but defensive coordinator John Jancek says patience is needed. Jancek said Tuesday, “We’re building a program. That’s all you can say. People have to trust us. I know it’s not easy to do.” Trust is in short supply in Knoxville where head coach Butch Jones strained patience to the point of no return.
Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): With Alabama looming on the schedule October 17, the Aggies get a bye week to rest, recover and prepare. “For us right now, [the bye] comes at a good time,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. The bye week should benefit wide receiver Speedy Noil, who has missed two full games and played only sparingly in the other three due to a yet undisclosed injury.
Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2 SEC): The Commodores have an off week before traveling to South Carolina on October 17.
There is a terrific story to be found at Al.com about former Alabama running back Kerry Goode’s battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Having lost an uncle to ALS I know how devastating this disease can be, not just for the victim but for his family and friends who can only watch helplessly as the body deteriorates bit by bit.
Although he’s elevated Virginia Tech football and turned it into a national brand, Frank Beamer is feeling the heat from Hokie fans who think his sell-by date might have expired a few years ago. The Hokies are off to a 2-3 start that has been hindered by the broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Michael Brewer in the season opener against Ohio State. Beamer (275-138-4; 233-115-2 at VaTech) needs 25 more wins to join that very small club of coaches who have won 300 games. Will fans and the VaTech administration let him get his 300 wins and go out on his own terms?
Butch Jones has troubles of his own so the last thing he needs is another PR hit, but that’s what he got Tuesday when he dismissed wide receiver Pig Howard for a violation of team rules. Perception is that Jones is losing control of the UT program and that this dismissal is just more evidence that the Vols might need to change coaches again (Jones is the third since 2009).
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Leonard Fournette is being compared to the greatest running backs of all-time in the Southeastern Conference. Who would you rate as the top five runners in SEC history? And, who would you rate as the top five running backs in the SEC this year?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Back in 1977 when I was working at the Richmond News-Leader, the USA-USSR junior (under age 19) track meet was held in Richmond. The kids on the USSR team came with two suitcases – one with clothes the other filled with vodka. They sold the vodka for cash, then went to the stores and cleaned Richmond out of Levi’s blue jeans (could sell them for $200 a pair in Moscow) and Beatles albums. Thinking about that Wednesday, I listened to Paul McCartney’s Red Square concert recorded in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of Russians jammed Red Square for what turned out to be a giant sing-along.