Gators' McElwain pleased with two phases Saturday

Florida head football coach Jim McElwain took the podium Monday for his weekly press conference and the second year leader of the gator program said he was very pleased with both the offensive and defensive performances from Saturday afternoon against Kentucky.

What McElwain liked the most is the way it seemed bot the offense and defense seemed to feed off of each other with the Gators getting 28 of their 45 points from the offense following turnovers gained by the defense.

"Two phases of our team really did an amazing job coming together playing with a common goal,” McElwain said. “Both offensively and defensively I think we responded off, kind of built off each other as the game went on. There were a lot of really good things.”

McElwain is big on the common goal thing, at least he has been so far this early season. He is trying to make his guys understand that if they do their job eventually they are going to have the opportunity to shine on the play. That happened a lot on Saturday.

I think the best thing that really occurred in that when you talk about a common goal, some guys kind of not worrying about the individual stats piece,” he said. “Because, you know, these guys got a lot of people in their mind, in their ears, telling them they gotta have all this and that. When, ultimately, the people that make the decisions when you talk about the next level actually look at how you do your job.”

Florida tallied five sacks, a forced fumble, three interceptions, and gave up just 149 yards on the day. It was a group effort that saw a lot of people get in on the action. On offense it was a lot of the same. The offensive line, which seems to only grab the headlines when they play badly, did their job at a much higher level allowing the other guys on offense to shine.

“The guys up front, Ivey, Brantley, Cox, some guys just did an outstanding job of doing their job, taking care of their responsibilities and it allowed some other people around them to really, really play good,” McElwain continued. “I thought our pass protection was really good and allowed Luke to get his feet set and make some throws. That's kind of how this thing works, and until we kind of get that consistently, that's when we're really gonna have a good football team. Giving up yourself for the benefit of others, that thought, playing with a common goal, with a team goal, you know, this is a complete of a performance as I think we've ever played with.

It was a little bit different tone when talking about special teams. Missed kicks, penalties, and more saw the special teams go from being the best unit in week one, to the worst of the three in week two.

“Now, we've got to clean some things up on special teams,” McElwain said. “You saw some penalties show up there, guys hitting some people in the back. They were hustling, but understanding that if you can’t see the front of their jersey you just can't do that. And we need to get that cleaned up. Because we've got good players that are playing hard, but we've got to play smart as well as we're moving forward.”

A hard critic of quarterback play…

McElwain understands that sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio had a very good game on Saturday, but it really gnaws at him when his young pupil makes some of the mistakes that he knows he can be better at.

“That still bothered me that overthrew Freddie,” McElwain said when asked if there were any throws that he didn’t like from Del Rio. “That he doesn’t set his feet. If he sets his feet, we’ve got another explosive play. The race route to Callaway. Just ridiculous that he missed that throw that just, you know, but, he can see. When he doesn’t get his feet in the right area in the right way, he’s a little late with the ball. The one down in the red area to Brandon. When you come off the play fake and see no depth in the defense, that ball’s got to be out. I mean, he threw it off a two-hitch throw. It should have been an explosive touchdown right there. That bothers me. But he’ll see that and hopefully learn from it. 

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You can see Mac’s eyes kind of gleam when he thinks about working on the different little issues to work on this week with his quarterbacks.

“Here's the amazing thing as you go through no matter what you do, you actually have to fail to learn,” he said. “Think about what I just said there, and all the great ones failed more than they won. It's because they're willing to go out there and do it. Right? Learning from failure is the key and that's for every position. That's not just for quarterback.

Expectations are a big part of the McElwain theme, so he expects his quarterbacks to play at that kind of level. As a matter of fact, it should have happened because of the way others played around him.

“We can all look at this because we all want to talk about the quarterback all the time, but I think (Del Rio) was the first one to point out the reason he was OK was because they kept the chief clean,” McElwain said of the play of the offensive line. “The pocket was pretty good, right? Let's give the credit to them for his performance. He just did what he was supposed to do. He did his job. And yet, if he does his job better, which he can, he'll hit those throws. And really, it irritates me."

Those are pretty strong words coming after a guy threw for more yards than any quarterback at Florida in an SEC contest since 2003 along with four touchdowns. McElwain says this is his approach with all of the players.

“I try to coach them all hard because I want them to be successful,” he said. “And especially at that position, but really all of them. I don’t think I’ve done anything different from what I’ve ever done.”

Keeping the backup quarterbacks engaged…

The backup quarterbacks all signal in the plays during the game. They remain active between series as well, something that should help them as the season goes along, even though they aren’t the ones on the field playing.

“Them being involved in the game plans, it only helps them play as well,” McElwain said. “I really like that room. They’re guys that it’s really important to them. They study it and they help each other. When you have that kind of competition and you have camaraderie in that group, that means you’ve got a chance to be good at that position.

“Between series, they go through every play, what coverage did you see. Then on the play, they’re obviously signaling it in. Each guy has a different series as to which guy is the hot guy on the signals. So, they’re responsible for that. In turn, what that then does is allow to go ahead and whether the key, weak-side rotation and the safety… where they’re going to go with the ball. Shades or whatever in the run game, and the (Run-Pass Option) stuff we do. If forces them to play the game mentally, which in turn, helps you down the road.”

Running backs pulling their weight…

McElwain continually praised the running back group in the offseason, calling them the best unit on the team. They ran well in week one given the issues blocking up front and lack of carries, and in week two they all came to play. Senior Mark Herndon, junior Mark Thompson, sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett, and freshman Lamical Perine all did some nice things both in the run game and passing game on Saturday.

He’s not ready to say there is a clear front runner in the group.

"Those are pretty good players and all had pretty good games,” McElwain said. “In fact, Cronkrite did a good job, especially in the third-down package. He did some really good things. I think they all did pretty good. It's a good problem to have."

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Perine was particularly impressive in his SEC debut, running for 105 yards on 17 carries and hauling in a 28-yard flare pass for a touchdown as well. Perine is one that Florida kept from Alabama who really wanted him in the recruiting process and the gators got on him early knowing what the young man had in him.

“He has got some bloodlines, and I think you remember me talking about him last spring or maybe even media days, if there was one of these guys that I was kind of excited about,” he stopped in mid-thought. “I was excited about all of them, but I really felt like he was a guy in the evaluation phase, I just think he is a good SEC back. When you look at the size of our backs they can take a pounding and give out a pounding and that’s good.”

Along with credit to the offensive line for Del Rio’s positive play at quarterback, McElwain gave a pat on the back to the running game as well.

"For us to be a good football team we've got to be able to run the ball and establish some semblance of that, which allows you to get your explosive plays off play-action,” he said. “We did a really good job in the play-action phase of it, got some explosive plays because of that.

“I'm going to say it over and over, but this is true: if you can stop the run defensively and make them one-dimensional, you've got a pretty good chance to be on top. If you can run the ball offensively, and it now opens up your whole playbook as to what you can do. It's about establishing the run on offense and it's about stopping the run on defense. That's what great football teams do and championship programs do if you look at it year in and year out, the teams that are really successful. You get some outliers here and there, but ultimately those teams that can do those two things usually end up being pretty darn good."

Film hawks in the secondary…

Something you come to realize when following this team is how many guys that stand out to the staff are guys that put the time in back in the film room. The Florida secondary has a few that do that, led by junior starting corners Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor. Both had highlight interceptions on Saturday and McElwain says it is all about the study time for those two along with Marcus Maye. Of course he gives credit to the front seven as well.

"How did those guys do that? They do that because of some guys up front,” McElwain said of the interceptions. “That's the key. That was an unbelievable squeeze to the sideline (for Wilson), he had his head back. That interception that he had was a big-time interception.

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Jalen's interception -- and I credit him because he studies the game so much -- you play faster when you know your opponent and that was one of those formational things where he knew what was happening. He might as well have been the receiver on that one as well as quickly as he got in. And then you think about Marcus', what did we do? We rushed the passer, he got off the mark, he threw an errant throw and there you go. All those guys, it goes back to a team defense and what you do to prepare to be successful, and that was pretty good."

"Those two guys (Tabor and Wilson), like I said, here's what I like is their approach and the extra study they do and how you watch film, not just watching it and saying 'Hey, that was kind of cool.' What can they learn from tendencies, splits, and formations? You know, this guy's here, those kinds of things. They really do a great job of that, which helps them be even better players. They're natural, great players, but the way they study, that's what I like."

‘Wanny’ making a name for himself… 

 The first drive of the game on offense was a little reminiscent of the week before in terms of the offensive line play up front. As it turns out right tackle Fred Johnson hurt his ankle early and was struggling on the edge. After the break between series, freshman Jawaan Taylor was inserted at right tackle and the play of the entire line seemed to get better, especially at that spot.

Taylor has been an eye opener this fall as he was originally recruited as a guard but moved to tackle after he committed himself before he ever arrived to losing a lot of weight and allowing himself to move better and be on the edge.

“Here is a guy that you talk about committing to something that is really important to you,” McElwain said of the guy he calls Wanny. “He came to camp and we said 'hey we need you to come back and be able to move a little bit better.' He came back at the end of camp down to about 340 and playing like a ball of rolling butcher knives. I love the way he plays and the energy he plays with.

“Immediately when he got here this summer he wasn't going to let anybody bring him down. His energy in which he plays with is contagious and like I said last week, you saw us play him at tight end in the heavy package. We did the same thing this week. We will continue to go that, getting him and Fred together at the same side. I thought he was playing good and yet as soon as I say that the guy probably will get his belly rubbed and think that everyone thinks that he is a hero, but he needs to continue to develop but obviously he is a good player.”


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