The team itself has had a strong week of practice as they get ready for the big matchup between powerful Southeastern Conference teams. A sense of urgency has been an issue for his team, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain said that is something they worked on and feels better about after the first three days of practice.
"I thought there was really good intensity, especially our good-on-good stuff,” he said following Florida’s practice on Wednesday. “I thought the guys were competing. We really needed to make sure we played as fast as we could against each other, body quickness, based on the opponent we're playing this week. I thought the competition was good throughout the week and that's obviously very important.
With Hurricane Matthew barreling down on the east coast of Florida there has been talk about moving the game around, but Florida announced late Wednesday the tentative plan that the game will be played in Gainesville at the scheduled noon kickoff time. The game will be played in Gainesville regardless and McElwain is ready to be home after two weeks on the road.
“I think our guys are excited about getting back home after two weeks and playing in front of our fans in the Swamp, getting our students there, which is a great environment and looking forward to it again,” he said.
McElwain is also ready to have his starting quarterback back and the expectation of having Luke Del Rio return sooner rather than later has jumped considerably lately. McElwain isn’t all in saying his sophomore season starter will play and start Saturday, but there is a solid chance that happens. Senior grad transfer Austin Appleby has played in place of Del Rio for the last two games plus. McElwain also stresses that freshmen quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks will also be available.
“Luke split reps this week with Austin,” McElwain said. “After yesterday's practice, which was pretty extensive obviously for a normal Tuesday, there was some stiffness and obviously there's going to be this morning. He got back on the horse today and I thought looked pretty good, moving and sidestepping and doing some of the things in the move-the-pocket stuff that we need to do to be successful. We'll find out really there again how it reacts tomorrow, so nothing definitive there. He'll be prepared to play, so will Austin, so will Kyle, so will Feleipe. So whatever direction we have to go, we'll go that way. He's obviously a step ahead of where he was last week.
McElwain is not usually one to preach one player over another and so he won’t publicly pick sides in the battle for the position. But, he did like the way Del Rio was playing before he went down.
“You know, I thought he was playing at a pretty high level,” McElwain said. “He was pretty on time with some things, just a step ahead of kind of understanding (things). With that, Austin did some good things to. But what he brings is another quarterback in the meeting room who can go play. You know, and that’s a good thing for us.”
McElwain says the entire playbook is pen for both quarterbacks.
“Austin, he does a good job,” McElwain said. “They do some things differently. So, they’ll play to those strengths, you know, one or the other… something that we gotta do obviously as play callers and putting a plan together.”
Outside of Del Rio, the injury report was a little more positive on Wednesday. Linebacker Daniel McMillian(D-Mac) didn’t have contact and that usually means they are out if they can’t go on Wednesday. Defensive linemen Joey Ivie and Jordan Sherit will miss a few more weeks each with different injuries. Junior receiver Brandon Powell looks to be alright after an ankle injury against Vanderbilt. Junior offensive tackle David Sharpe is playing through a shoulder injury. Junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley will play with a cast. Senior defensive end Bryan Cox has been ill but will pay as well.
“D-Mac was still no contact,” he said about his senior linebacker. “We should know more about that moving forward. The scope on Sherit went really well. Obviously Joey's still out, he'll be out for another couple of weeks. Powell's fine. Sharpe, you know, I think he's fighting through it. I think he wants to play in the game. He took most of the reps today, not necessarily in the high-speed competition stuff, but obviously in the other things. But I'm hoping he finds it in him to go out and play for the Gators.
“Caleb, he'll be wrapped up pretty good with that hand but took a lot of the team run stuff today, so it was good to see. I know I'm missing somebody. Cox is fine… he's so driven and competitive, right? These are the things and the games that guys it really means something to, they rise up to another level. How do you miss this, a game against a team like this in The Swamp? It would be beyond me not to try to do whatever you can to go.”
Offensive Line getting healthy…
Sophomore guard Tyler Jordan is back after eye surgery and will be back in the starting lineup at right guard. With Sharpe most likely to go at left tackle, the Gators should be back to the line that started the season. It appears that is the group that they will be expected to go with on Saturday.
“Well, the good thing is now we’ve got Fred (Johnson) who can relieve at guard and tackle,” McElwain said when asked about Jordan being back and what it means. “He worked both positions. ‘Waany’ (Jawaan Taylor) showed that he is a competitor and did some good things, but also he probably needs some breaks in there because there were some lapses. That will give us that depth we need now. It’s now two that will help us in case, with Tyler being able to actually swing over to left if we have to. And now put ‘Tez’ (Martez Ivey ) out at tackle.”
Jordan is a guy that can work all three interior line positions if need be, so they now have more flexibility up front.
“He’s worked a bunch on the inside three, including center,” McElwain said of Jordan. “He did all center when he was no contact. He’s been in that position behind T.J., so he can roll into the inner threes.”