Jim McElwain knew his team was outplayed on Saturday. The Gators were able to squeak out a 20-14 win over Florida Atlantic in overtime, but the biggest issue in his mind was the lack of energy. The Florida coach ripped into his team after struggling to put away the Owls, who brought a 2-8 record into Saturday.
The first-year coach compared it to a trip to the grocery store. McElwain pointed to the dead fish that are often for sale in the seafood department and said that’s the type of energy his team has.
“When you guys go to like a seafood market or the grocery store, you see all those dead fish on ice? That’s the energy they’re playing with right now,” McElwain said. “How excited are you to hang out with that dead fish? I’m just telling you. Go to the dead fish aisle and look at the fish’s eyes. That’s what bothers me.”
If the players struggle to find that energy, the Gators can skate through the rest of the season with plenty more struggles than they had on Saturday. If they fix it, they’ve got two big opportunities against No. 14 Florida State next week and No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship the following week.
“We got some energy vampires right now that need to understand that isn’t how we’re going to do things around here,” McElwain said.
Saturday was a predictable opportunity for a letdown. The Gators were coming off their final SEC win with a rivalry game looming next week. They went to 10-1 on Saturday, making McElwain the first coach in Florida history to record 10 wins during his first season.
Those numbers didn’t mean much after the game. The Gators knew they got away with one for their second straight home game.
“We had a lull,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “I don’t think we came out the way we were supposed to. I think the energy was lacking. We can’t have that. It’s too big a time in the year, things have been going too well. We really have to just push through it. From here on out, if you can’t get up for these games, you really shouldn’t be playing football.”
And that’s why McElwain continued his ‘dead fish’ rant from the postgame locker room into the press conference. He congratulated the team on its win and getting to double digits, but he knew there was more left that needs to be corrected before next weekend.
It was especially evident on the offensive line. As the unit got whipped by Florida Atlantic on Saturday, McElwain saw their energy drop and heads started to hang on the Florida sideline. Instead of having the energy needed to stay optimistic and fix it, they just tried to get by with minimal energy.
“That team that came in here played their tails off,” McElwain said. “Give them all the credit there is. They beat us to every punch up front, they had more energy, they played the way the game should be played – physical, point of attack and beat the heck out of us. That’s just the way it was. You guys watched it. Very disappointed in our effort.”
Florida held defensive linemen Caleb Brantley (abdomen), Joey Ivie (leg), Alex McCalister (foot) and Jordan Sherit (hamstring) out on Saturday. They got more banged up as the game went on.
Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard had a knee injury early in Florida Atlantic’s first drive, but he returned to the game and played through it. McElwain wasn’t sure if he would be able to get back but credited the senior for returning.
“Bullard had every opportunity to pull himself from that ball game and because he cares so much about the Gators and because he care so much about his teammates, he came back and played his tail off,” McElwain said. “He had every opportunity to say ‘you know what I don’t want a piece of this.’ I think that speaks as to what kind of person he is. As you get in this part of the season that maybe goes on in guys’ minds. You got guys in their ears, and he came back and gave us everything he had.”
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III left early because of a stomach issue and didn’t return. Left guard Martez Ivey had a shoulder injury and didn’t return.
Defensive lineman Taven Bryan (ankle), linebacker Antonio Morrison (hamstring, stomach) and wide receiver Brandon Powell (foot) all suffered injuries but returned to the game.