Florida head coach Jim McElwain has seen different parts of his team play very well in different games. Still waiting on that one contest where all three phases click, McElwain said Wednesday evening that this Gator squad has had an excellent week of practice and they are enjoying preparing for what lies ahead.
“It’s been a fun week of practice,” McElwain told a throng of reporters on hand to listen to his weekly Wednesday presser. “We got a lot of things accomplished. Felt really good about a couple of phases that we really needed to get cleaned up. I think we had a really good plan in special teams. It’s good to get that kind of handled and ironed out a little bit. I think we’ve been a little sloppy there and these guys (Tennessee) really make their hay there and have traditionally kind of in their special teams. We have to make sure we’re on top of it there.”
Outside of the recent injuries to quarterback Luke Del Rio and right guard Tyler Jordan, Florida seems to be healing with the other players that were on the mend and head into Knoxville with a little more firepower than they finished with against North Texas.
“Injury-wise, D-Mac (Daniel McMillian) is still banged up, probably very, very questionable, probably doubtful,” he started. “Antonio Callaway, you know what, he got around pretty good today. I’d say take him off the doubtful list and put him questionable to probable as we go. We’ll kind of see how that goes. But he’s got to be running 100 percent for us to put him out there. I know how much it means to him from that piece.
“Other than that, just some bruises. The other guys obviously are still out that have been out. Nothing new there. Tyrie Cleveland should be able to go. He’s hasn’t practiced a bunch anyway. It’s kind of tough. But, he ran good, you know, did some special teams things for us, which is good. So, other than that, as normal.”
Been on other end of streak?
"Oh man, at Montana State now. There was about a 13-year streak there where kept mulling around in the grizzlies on the other end. It was one of those things where I still didn't even talk about games that stick to you. We took a two-minute drive down, put it in the end zone and our kicker kicked it out of bounds, gave the ball to them on the 35 and threw a grab post against corner coverage. Guy catches it, kicker kicks a game winner with no time left to push the streak, and that was for the Big Sky Championship that year. That's one of those that always stays with you. "
At stake Saturday for the Gators is another SEC Eastern Division tilt and the chance to continue a winning streak against the Vols that already extends 11 games. McElwain has discarded any of the talk of the streak this week. Instead he can point to the fact that the recent scores in the game have been really close.
"For the maturity of our guys right now when you look at it, it's one year,” he said about putting the past behind them. Before commenting on how each team is approaching the contest.
"I can't speak for what they do. I know they've had this circled and probably whatever since ... I get it. That's just not my gig. To me it's a huge game, and I tell our guys, 'This is a huge game. Huge. Because it's the next game.' When you become a team that's able to understand that and keep it in perspective, the juice of the game itself, man, they're going to be excited. How can you not be excited running out in front of 100,000 that are booing you? Man, that is so cool. I mean, where else does that happen, right? So I tell them more, 'Let's just go enjoy it because not everybody can experience this and just be proud of what you put on film.' That's really what it's all about."
The antics off the field between players on the two teams for the last several months have a lot of people wondering if the two teams might be at wits-end when the ball is kicked off. McElwain doesn’t believe that will be the case.
“As the game goes on I think the fans are more juiced than the guys on the field,” he said. “They’re focused on what they have to do and there’s no doubt when you come out and that first play, that first series the place is going crazy. You can’t hear. Guys are just firing off the ball, all cylinders. Does it get any better than that?”
Some still questioning the defense…
There is no doubt that the Florida defense has been extremely good in the first three weeks of the season. Owners of several #1 rankings among national stats on defense they seem to be playing as a complete unit. However, the questions arise when people talk about the competition the Gators have faced. McElwain thinks they are doing pretty well and are as good as they looked.
"I hope so... they looked pretty good,” McElwain said.
They probably will find out a lot more about the defense on Saturday.
“I think it's good,” he said. “You know, these guys ran through us a year ago. I don't think we tackled them one time. Give them that credit because they're really good. They've got really good players. I mean, you hear about them recruiting every year. They've got the best players in the country and you know, they play that way.
“I think it's a good test. Any time you get an opportunity to go out and prove yourself, go do it and have a good time doing it."
Running game takes toll on defenses late…
Florida uses a running back rotation that basically includes for guys. Evenly dispersed so far, junior Mark Thompson, sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett, and freshman Lamical Perine have all produced late in games after the four guys have pounded the rock in the earlier parts.
“I think they're all doing a really good job and what I like is kind of what's happening is I think when you look statistically maybe, which was pointed out to me, I didn't think about it, our production in like that third and fourth quarter as it goes, we're actually getting a few chunks,” McElwain said of bigger gains late in the game. “I think it's because our guys are fresh and they've done a pretty good job at that."