McElwain led off Monday’s press conference saying he thought some of his players were a little tentative Saturday in an uninspired win.
“It’s good to be done with the state of Tennessee,” he started. “Any time you’re able to get a win on the road, it was great. I thought (Vanderbilt) played extremely hard, extremely well. I think we had some guys that looked a little bit like they were playing with some undue pressure for some reason. We’ve got to make sure that we’re playing loose and that is really the first time I think that showed up, some guys kind of tensed up a little bit. And yet we played hard. We came out ready to play.
On the road at Vanderbilt has been a game that Florida has struggled over time. Usually the matchup should favor the Gators in a big way, but it doesn’t always happen against this team. That is no excuse according to McElwain. He said it wasn’t because of an early start to the game.
“I know historically that has been a tough place for us to play, and yet we’ve got to figure out how to get that changed because we’ll go back there in a couple of years and we’ve got to be able to do that. Our guys really did a great job with the noon start. We’ll have a similar schedule to what we did this week.
One side of the Vanderbilt stadium was about 2/3 covered with Gator fans and the head man said that really impressed his players and had an effect on the game.
“Plain and simple, players of the game were our fans,” he said. “Our guys... when we came back into the locker room after warmups, they were just like, ‘Coach, you see half the stadium was orange and blue.’ Even our defensive guys, there was a time when they were down in the horseshoe end there on the grass end and caused them an issue on a third down and that was on the road. That was because of our fans. That was something special.
McElwain is prodding the students at Florida to get there on time this weekend and show up ready to yell Saturday.
“We’re going to need that same thing this week,” he said. “A noon tip. I can say ‘tip’ now because we started basketball practice today I think. So, you know, getting our students to set their alarms, get out of bed, get over to the Swamp.
“I truly believe the Swamp is the best place in college football to play a home game, and yet there are some LSU fans that I think who think their place is. This will be great for us to get in front of our fans here and play a really good football team that obviously has been through some change.
Offense needs to be more urgent…
While the offense is still ahead of last year in terms of production, there has been a backward slide in the last few games. There are issues with injuries to key players and other things, but for McElwain, he needs his guys to constantly get ready to play the next play instead of sitting on their heels. Another issue he is facing is the people surrounding some of the players and their expectations of those players putting undue pressure on them.
He says there have been enough good things to know they can be much better.
“I’m not disappointed, I think we’ve done some good things,” McElwain said. “I think consistency and sense of urgency. I keep going back to that. You know I think sometimes guys put undue pressures on themselves. And I think part of those pressures actually comes externally, which is noise… dad, mom, Auntie, Uncle, or street agent. You know ‘you’ve got to go do this because you’re going to be the lifeblood of our family’. And these guys are 18 to 22 year-old guys, and sometimes they let that affect their joy and energy to where you start to ball up a little bit. And I’m seeing that.
“I will say this; our effort is 100% better. Now, consistency and performance is nowhere where it needs to be. And yet, we’ve got pretty decent play out of the quarterback. Um I know we’ve got some young receivers that are starting to show up a little bit, so we do need to create more explosive runs though… plain and simple. And that starts with puncturing the defense a little bit. Instead of lateral steps we need to be going forward, some things like that and playing with a better pad level.”
He knows they have work to do on offense, a steady process that has a dash of success here and there so far this year.
“Am I excited about where it is? No,” he said of the offense. “Time-frame wise, we’ve got to get better play at some positions, and we’ve got to get more energy out of those positions. And yet that’s my responsibility. Did I put a time frame on that? No. Do I have crystal ball? No. Did we do with what we have based on our team as far some ball control and playing long field to give us an opportunity to win ball games? I think we did. That’s part of coaching – know what you have and keep pushing to get what you want. We’ve done a pretty good job of playing team football.”
One issue he has faced is the loss of starting quarterback Luke Del Rio. Del Rio has missed the entire road swing in Tennessee and most of the last quarter of the North Texas game before that with a knee injury. While the prognosis is getting better, there is still a good deal of doubt whether Del Rio will play this Saturday versus LSU. That means senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby will take the reins yet again.
“Yeah, Austin’s the guy,” McElwain said when asked. “He’s got to take those reps again this week, and he’s done a good job. You always want to have a couple throws back. I bet if you ask a quarterback in the NFL today based on yesterday, there (are) a couple of guys who might want a throw or two back, right? That’s part of it. That’s part of playing the position, and you know what? He’ll continue to grow.”
Gators need to shore up the run defense…
With the injury report out Monday the Gators will have their hands full up front on the defensive line. There is a chance all four starters up front could miss all or part of the game and two are definitely out.
Florida has been solid overall in rush defense and are still second in the conference giving up just 90 yards per game, but in the last two contests, the Gators have yielded 179 and 147 yards on the ground respectively, a trend that needs to change, especially with LSU coming to town.
“I thought they took advantage, yet they’ve done that against a lot of people,” McElwain said of Vanderbilt’s run game. “Ralph Webb? That guy is a really good player. I felt they did a great job up front, especially on the defensive front taking advantage of us.
McElwain did point out that the Gators kept them out of the end zone.
But the one thing: They got six points, so we contained it,” he said. “The thing we were disappointed with, their starting field position we had them pinned down but let them out with some big runs. (LSU is) spreading it out a little bit more, trying to throw and that stuff, which is fine. But at the end of the day, you have to stop the run to be successful. They’ve got a rested Fournette. He’s as good as he is and obviously he’s going to be hungry because he saw what the other guy did. They’ll be a little competition there, I think.”