“It was fun to get back after it and get that taste of the last ball game we played out of our mouth,” McElwain said. “Obviously we have a long way to go.”
Florida finished horribly last year after a 6-0 start. The loss of quarterback Will Grier and a kicking game that went totally south saw the Gators flip and flop their way to 10-1 before landing on their face losing the last three games of the season.
UMass was just the right medicine to get a better feeling about this team and kick off the 2016 season, or so they thought. Instead, the gators took a 10-3 lead into halftime and weren’t comfortable with the score until after the fourth quarter started.
They were their own worst enemy.
“Some third and longs and things that they stayed on the field we have to get organized,” he said about the defense which gave up a long scoring drive in the first quarter due to penalties and blown assignments. “I’m not happy at all with the penalties, especially the three personal fouls. In one case, their touchdown scoring drive was 35 yards of unforced errors caused by us. That’s not how you are going to play winning football and that’s a little disappointing.”
The penalties were something McElwain came back to later when pressed by the media. These are just gifts for the other team and they were prominent in the only score that UMass had on the night.
“It’s just unacceptable,” he said. “We had like eight of them for 80 yards. The thing that bothered you about some of them is they were unforced. We have to play smarter. We can’t put ourselves in holes. That was a big thing when we got here, we did a good job of eliminating some of those. When you have three of those majors in one game, we can’t have that.
When asked what he plans to do about correcting the penalty issue, McElwain showed his displeasure that much more.
“I can’t wait”
There were some bright spots to point out.
“Our guys played hard,” he said. “I thought Luke did some pretty darn good things. He took care of the football. That’s how you become successful as a team.
In fact Del Rio may have to ice his arm down a little bit after throwing the ball 44 times on the night. He went 29-44 for 256 yards and was efficient, but the Gators rarely scared UMass with explosive plays they were hoping to get. Some of it could have been with the loss of junior receiver Dre Massey early in the contest due to injury. He and junior cornerback Duke Dawson were the casualties for the contest.
“Explosive plays, not anywhere near enough,” he said. “On the injury front with that in mind, Dre Massey went down early, we’re going to have to take a look at that, not sure where that’s going to be. Duke Dawson went down with an arm injury. We’ll look at that.
He found the silver lining in the injury front as well. Florida was going to have to play a lot of rookies in the secondary no matter what. With the suspension to starter Jalen Tabor and the early injury to Dawson, it allowed Joseph Putu, Chris Williamson, and Chauncey Gardner to get a lot of time on the outside.
“It enabled us to get Putu and Chauncey and Chris in there at corner a little bit,” he said. “I thought that was good and that will help us down the road a little bit at corner.
Defense didn’t dominate…
Florida’s defense held UMass to one scoring drive and under 200 yards of offense, yet those kind of numbers were to be expected, if not better against this team. McElwain concurred that he needs the defense to play much better.
“I thought our defense was just okay,” he said with a deflated look. “I thought they did some things on third downs, but I thought they played just okay and we can definitely play better and they will.
Florida finished with four sacks, but his expectations of the front are much higher.
“I didn’t think it was good enough, I thought it was very average,” he said of the play of the defensive line. “We have to play with better pad level, we let them block us and that’s not a good sign.
McElwain was excited about the play of senior linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis who led the team in tackles with six and nine each.
“Those two linebackers played well, Alex and Jarrad,” he said. “It would be hard for me to think that there are a better two in the country than those guys, the way they communicate and feed off each other.”
Offensive line a bunch of loafers…
McElwain found moments in time that he felt the offensive line performed well, but overall he was ready to grab a cattle prod and get after them.
“I think they did better in our up-tempo stuff,” he said of the line. “I’ll tell you what bothers me is the way they mope around and just walk around out there instead of just hustling and getting ready to go. That’s all part of it. Their energy has to be a lot better. Those tackles have to get up and get set so we can execute and get more plays than what we did in this game.
Del Rio does take a little bit off the line in terms of getting the ball away and not taking sacks.
“He’s confident and I will tell you what he does,” McElwain started. “He does a good job of studying the plan and understanding where it will be. I thought he lost his eyes on a couple, he gave up on them a little quick. That’s all part of playing and he will see it on video.”
“I am sure Kentucky will see it and be confident that they will come in here and whip our tails.”
He was pleased with the first time play of Del Rio, knowing that there were areas he can and will improve.
“I thought Luke did a pretty good job,” McElwain said. “He took care of the ball, put it where it was supposed to be. I don’t know how many drops we had, but I know there were a couple in the first half that would have helped. That piece we have to get better.
“We have to get out of the pocket a little bit more and give him a chance to get out and see. We felt we could protect and I wanted to challenge our offensive line based on a year ago giving up 45 sacks as a unit. He got flushed a couple of times, but I thought he played okay.
“He will play better, but you could see the sense of calm out there. There wasn’t a lot of panic. That is the credit of a go quarterback. His team believe in him.”
Kicking game gets an A…
If there was a really bright spot and something Gator fans ad coaches were excited to see it was the exploits of the kicking game. Eddy Pineiro made three field goals and an extra point going 4-for-4 on the tries. McElwain also took a made field goal off the board to try and score more points which would have made his night even better.
Johnny Townsend did his usual punting the heck out of the ball. He was off on one, but pinned UMass twice inside the 10 yard line while averaging 44.5 yards per punt on four kicks.
“Eddy kicked a couple which was good to see in game action,” McElwain said. “He got a little confused, he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to kick off from after he made it. He got a little nervous because he left his mouthpiece in the locker room. Other than that he did a pretty good job for us and it’s good to have that piece.
“That guy can really kick. I am glad he’s here and fun to be around. He told me going into the game, he said “Coach, kicking doesn’t matter who’s all there, it’s all about timing and rhythm. The environment doesn’t matter’. To me it tells me he has the right mindset that makes up a good, competitive kicker.
“He did some things in the kickoff game that I was probably just as happy with. We wanted to see how much hang time he had and force some guys to come out. He did that in the goal line area and we were able to get our coverage units down there and I think got them inside the 20 a couple of times. I thought that was a real positive.”
“(Townsend) kind of missed one off the side of his foot a little bit. We were hoping to change field position a little bit with one of them. Any time you can make a team go long like he does and he did with his punts, and our protection was really good. I thought our guys covered really well. He’s a weapon. Those two kickers, those are two really good players. Johnny picked up where he left off last year in pinning those guys inside, so that was really good.”
Preparing for the first SEC contest…
As mentioned, this was supposed to be a walk in the park. Florida starts SEC play next week and against a Kentucky team that continues to play Florida tough every time out. It should make for a hard week of practice.
“Overall, we have a lot to work on,” McElwain said. “I am excited about the win. I am excited about the crowd. I was nervous because of the weather. The fact they chose to spend the night with the Gators was awesome. They stayed into it.
“The knowledge of our crowd I really liked and we’re going to need that next week as we play a good Kentucky team.
“We have a team coming in next week guys that is hungry as heck that came into this place a couple of years ago and thought they won the game. They continue to get better. Last year we had to fight our tails off to get a win. I’m sure they are going to come in and look at this tape and see the last three games last year and think ‘hey, we can beat these guys’. I’m sure that’s what Kentucky will do and we haven’t given them any reason not to think that.
“It should be a lot of fun next week.”
“Wins are hard man. It’s not easy. I’m excited about that piece and looking forward more into playing Kentucky and putting in the game plan and see more of what we’re made of a little bit. I think this will be one of those things where we will find out what these Gators want to do and standards they want to set. I think we opened the door for them with this performance today. We will see.”