Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Why the difference in one week?

There were a myriad of reasons the Gators could have played better Saturday in their SEC opener against Kentucky than the season opener against UMass. Florida head coach Jim McElwain offered up some reasons following the game, but we can delve into it more.

Certainly the Florida team stood a chance of being a little more hyped up to play against a conference foe than UMass, but I don’t really think that cuts mustard. UMass was the season opener and the players should have been amped to come out and play their hardest.  There were some starters missing as well and that should mean those vying for those spots should have also been amped, maybe more than usual.

McElwain doesn’t believe that it took a conference foe to wake his guys up. Steve Spurrier used to talk about games like the opener and how his team only had 11-12 Saturdays to prove themselves, so it didn’t make sense to take one off. McElwain thinks a little bit differently, but along the same lines.

“I hope that’s not what it is, because in life it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, why do something half way?” McElwain asked rhetorically to the media following the game. “Whatever opportunity you have, you have to go out and play with urgency. It’s about being prideful about who you are and what you put on film.”

McElwain did offer up reasons why things don’t go smoothly sometimes with a new opponent on the schedule, that is especially the case when it is the first game of the season. We saw a lot of crazy upsets in week one and it appears this thought really bears some mention.

“One of the things that happens in first games is all the ‘what if’s’,” he said. “What do I mean by that?  You make sure you’re practicing against all these looks and sometimes chasing ghosts.”

It changes quickly like in week two when Florida had film on Kentucky and kind of knew what they were going to bring the table during the matchup.

“It’s good now that you have film this year,” he said. “You can see personnel and know what you need to do to try and do some things. I credit our offensive staff for putting a pretty good, especially a third down game plan together. We were pretty decent at it and we stayed on the field and kept our defense off the field.

Some believed that McElwain was holding things back against UMass, but that just wasn’t the case.

“We probably actually showed less in this game to be honest,” he said. “We had a pretty good bead on we felt we were going to see. I thought for the most part (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier) did a great job.

The offensive line was questioned a great deal last week. They certainly didn’t play well, but the odd things that UMass threw at them up front were certainly things that are hard to prepare for, especially with not having film on what they would be doing already. The offensive line wasn’t out-muscled, but they were puzzled at times on whom they should be blocking and that led to missed assignments or being late to get to some of those assignments. .

Give credit to the Minutemen for the plan and allowing the Gators to chase al lot of the wrong ghosts. The Gators didn’t have that issue this week against the Wildcats.

“Luke knew what he was seeing,” McElwain said about his quarterback having a record type day against Kentucky. “He was confident and had his feet set. I think that speaks for the protection up front. When he gets his feet set, he can get the ball out of his hand quick, and did a pretty darn good job of that.

The way things went, it allowed the offense to set up plays in the game. One of those ‘set up plays’ came on a fake screen to Antonio Callaway that was working earlier in the game. Del Rio faked the screen and both freshman receiver Freddie Swain and junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby found themselves, ‘quarantined’ as Mick Hubert would say, heading to the end zone. Del Rio hit Swain for an easy 26-yard touchdown strike that actually could have been caught by either Gator.

“That is off of our ‘Star Wars’ package, that one is called ‘Jedi’,” McElwain said with a smile. “It was off the four screen we threw earlier to Callaway off the same look, so we set it up early in the game. We didn’t get to it until the second half, which is fine. We thought about it at the end of the first, but said lets carry it over to our first eight in the second, and sure enough it worked.”

The Gators were missing several starters and key players in week one. Tight end Cyontai Lewis was suspended for game one and is a big time blocker, the best in his unit. It was easy to see that against Kentucky as he was a big addition to what they were trying to do up front. C.J. Worton was injured in week one. He made his mark in the SEC opener.

On defense, cornerbacks Duke Dawson returned for a full game against Kentucky after being injured in the first quarter against UMass and Jalen Tabor returned this week after serving a suspension as well. Their return and in the proper positions on the field, may a huge difference in a defense that was beyond dominating in the contest.

All of these are good reasons to see what we saw and in the differences between week one and two. McElwain believes they were prepared for the problems they faced, but maybe his guys have a better understanding of what it is going to take to represent the Gators like they are supposed to.

“Maybe that is a question for the players,” McElwain said when asked why the big difference in play from game one to game two. “We were ready to play last week. We played okay. It was just okay and that’s not the expectation of how the Gators should play. I thought today we played better, but I still think we can play better.”

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