Speaking on his weekly teleconference with the SEC, McElwain said that the games like the one the Gators will play in Knoxville on Saturday are why you play and coach the sport.
"This is fun,” he started. “You get a chance to go on the road and play in front of 100,000-plus people booing ya. I mean, that's great. I think that this is why you do this and our kids I know are excited about going into Knoxville and having another opportunity just to go out and see who we are and what we're all about. You know what? It should be a lot of fun."
McElwain said they continuously pipe crowd noise in practice to simulate how loud it is on road games. He said there are all kinds of things the Gators do beforehand and during the game to fight the ambiance of a road game.
“That’s one of the things that we do continuously throughout, obviously,” he said about preparing for a trip like this. “We carry four different silent snap counts. We work all those just like we do every week so they can’t really try to get a beat on it.”
McElwain says going on the road is nothing to be afraid of.
“When you’re a player… you should just be excited to be able to play in an environment like this,” he said. “You know, I kinda harken back to loading up the bus and going and playing in Butte, Montana, as a player in high school. Playing on the road in front of a hostile environment, that’s what makes this stuff fun, so I don’t really do anything special, I guess.”
McElwain is seeing signs of improvement in his star receiver Antonio Callaway. Injured late in the game against Kentucky, he missed the last contest against North Texas. McElwain believes Callaway will be able to play on Saturday.
"Yeah… he tried to go a little bit yesterday and he kind of ran around there a little bit,” McElwain said of his receiver who was leading the SEC in receiving yards before the injury. “I know he'll do everything he can to play, but as you probably know, guys have to practice on Wednesday and they've got to be able to show they can go. The one thing I will never do is put someone out there that isn't able to really go produce. Time will tell, but I'm expecting him to have at it, but we'll know a lot more after today's practice."
The Gators are also going into the contest without starting quarterback Luke Del Rio. In his place will be senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby. Having gone through a midseason quarterback change last year, McElwain says he sees this as an opportunity for someone else to make a difference on this team and that he is constantly doing things to prepare his players for situations like this.
“This one of those games… it's a great opportunity for Austin to jump in there and get a chance to get Kyle or Feleipe some reps,” he said adding in the two freshmen quarterbacks that will be travelling with the team. “You know, I never really put much thought into (the issues with change). Things happen in life and, you know, you've just got to figure out what you're going to do. We try to do everything in our program to create as much chaos as we can anyway. "
McElwain believes the team will respond to Appleby who carries a lot of the same traits as far as leadership that Del Rio does.
“I know our guys have trust in Austin and Feleipe and Kyle,” McElwain said. “You know, it's been fun. I've really liked this quarterback room from the start. I talked about all four of the guys. They’re a lot of fun to be around and you know what, they've invested a lot into it and like other positions, we're missing our right guard that's out again that was a long-time starter for us… wide receiver or whatever. You know, it's next guy up. We'll go in and enjoy it."
Del Rio will be out for at least a couple of games, but he maintains a healthy role, doing as much as he can.
“That’s been cool and I think that that some guys, the way they handle adversity, especially when it comes to the football piece, I think his experience of growing up around the game and just seeing how different guys have handled that,” McElwain said. “Obviously he’s spent a ton of time down in the training room. He came out to practice the other day and signaled and was there in all the game plan things. So that room itself is the same. In other words, those four guys are in there going through the install and he’s preparing himself just like he’s the starter. And that really is what you expect from that position, and the guys around him, the team, they know he’s there. And we’ll take him on the trip for part of that reason. You know, we travel four quarterbacks and he’ll be a guy.”
Public display of confidence from his defense…
The Gator defense has been pretty outspoken about the game and it started way back in the offseason. While the Gators own the game a year ago, the defense felt a little embarrassed by the way they performed in the contest. This has been a game circled on the calendar for a while.
On Tuesday, some of the players met the media and junior starting quarterback Quincy Wilson led off his interview segment with a question for the media. “Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck?” The answer is of course no, and he was insinuating that the Gators are the truck and the Vols are the duck. These little media and social media games have been prevalent throughout the offseason and this week.
“You know, somebody told me about that… that’s a classic right there,” McElwain said of the duck and truck question. “I gotta find out what the heck that means. But I guess I have watched an Aflac commercial, but I’ve never seen that duck do it, so I don’t know.”
McElwain has been adamant about not stifling his players in the media. He wants them to speak their mind to a point, but he knows they better understand what it means.
“I haven’t really other than heard bits and pieces, but hey, look, these guys are who they are,” McElwain said. “I’m not into, you know, censorship. And you know, he better go back it up, I guess, whatever he said.”
So far the defense is backing it up. They stand second in the country in total defense, first in rush defense, first in scoring, and lead the nation in sacks. They haven’t played competition like they are going to see on Saturday, but they are playing at a very high level.
McElwain says it is all about the unselfish play of the group.
“What I’ve seen is a group of guys who have really committed to a common goal,” he said. “And, you know, guys doing their job and not worried about statistics. I think what happens is a lot of these guys, especially when you get to high profile programs that you do in the SEC, they’ve got a lot of external people in their ear thinking that, you know, they gotta get stats… individual stats. What these guys have done is a good job of cutting out all the exterior noise and focusing on what they can do to help us be pretty darn good. It’s been great to see the unselfish play up front.
“The first couple of weeks they were really getting after JD (Jarrad Davis), which helped (Alex) Anzalone. And this last week they started after Anzalone which really helped JD, and guys aren’t getting frustrated. They’re doing their job and playing at a high level. Now, looking back, you gotta remember that last year, in this particular game, these guys ran all over us. They went up and down the field. So, you know, we’ve gotta do a good job of staying disciplined and wrapping up to give ourselves a chance to win. This’ll be a great opportunity for them to go out defensively against a really good offense.”