McElwain Notebook: Dichotomy of the Gators

As we have progressed through the 2016 season, we have seen that the more things change, the more they somehow remain the same. For the Florida Gators, we see this in terms of a defense that is destructive, and an offense that still has a ways to go. But, as much as that can be said, things are improving.

Jim McElwain spoke to the Florida media on Wednesday during Florida’s bye week and was happy that a lot of the younger guys were getting some work in this week while others were mending.

 “The energy yesterday was great,” he said about Tuesday’s practice. “The guys were excited about getting back, feeling where we’re at. We’re obviously not where we want to be, but at the same time, based on that half that we played in that one game, we’re in a great spot and our guys are excited about it. Their energy has been awesome. Just around the building it’s been good.

“Obviously, for the young guys that are playing, a lot more snaps. This is a great week for that. To see them go through drills yesterday, that was really good, especially in the competition piece. We’ll have another.” 

“We’ll go today (Wednesday), obviously, tomorrow. Guys will work out Friday morning from a lift and run standpoint, then we’ll get back together for a family dinner on Sunday… a normal work week moving forward into that next game.”

Devastating Defense…

The Gators are tops in the SEC in all sorts of statistical categories. Outside of one half against Tennessee, this would likely be the most dominating six game stretch in Gators history in terms of pure statistics. McElwain says that one thing they have is a mindset that sometimes bad things are going to happen and you just have to shake them off. Something he wishes the offense would embrace.

“They’re pretty good,” he said of the defense. “I go against them every day, I get it. They’re pretty darn good. And they’re a lot of fun to be around. And they’re holding each other accountable, and they’re not worried about when a play does break. This is where I think the difference of the mindset piece is they don’t worry about it, they come back and go get the next play. And that right there is what great teams do and what great units do, and you know we’ve got a ways on one side and yet the other side’s got it pretty well organized.”

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The defensive line has been missing some guys do to energy, but McElwain has been very pleased with the way the younger guys have stepped in and played. Seniors Joey Ivie and Bryan Cox have missed time as well as junior Jordan Sherit.

"You know, as you kind of get going on this thing, it's big,” he said about the injuries. “But the other side of that is there are some young guys that are taking advantage of it and having some fun doing it. You just talk about the energy, I don't know if you guys kind of look out there, we've got some youngins out there taking a lot of snaps on both sides of the ball. But that's OK. They came here to play. I think the big thing is they take the lead from some of these older guys in how you go about the preparation piece, but we certainly want those guys back."

"I thought (freshman) Antonneous Clayton, he's still a long ways away from being where he's going to be, but I thought he and (sophomore) Keivonnis Davis really kind of played well. I thought (sophomore) CeCe Jefferson-- I know he's not young, but he is in relative terms -- I thought he really showed up. When you go down inside, the guy that I'd like to recognize a little bit, you know we keep waiting for him and I think the light came on a little bit is (sophomore) Taven Bryan. I thought Taven, he showed up and became relevant in the game and I thought that was really important for us."

Work in progress on offense…

While the defense for the Gators has been lights out, the offense has been a little hit-and-miss. Granted that is much better than the miss-and-miss from the end of last year. One big difference between the offense and defense is the youth and inexperience on that side of the ball. While the defense has a slew of players that have been a big part of things for three years, the offense has more first year big parts than third year experience guys.

 “They’re very average,” he said about the offense. “But, you know what, we’re 5-1. Last time I checked, that’s leading the East. And our guys are excited about it. We’ve been given a breath of life through some things that have transpired through it without our control, right? And now go take advantage of it, right? And here’s what’s fun, these young guys don’t know. They’re getting a lot of playing time and they’re going.”

The Missouri game marked the return of sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio. After missing two games with a knee injury, it wasn’t very likely that Del Rio was going to be at the top of his game. But, even he was vocal in his dislike for the way he played. McElwain knows that Del Rio takes it serious, but has the right attitude about it.

"Oh absolutely, 100 percent,” McElwain said when asked if his issues against Missouri which included three interceptions, are correctable. “I think the biggest thing is don't try to do too much. And I think he knew the plan and yet he got himself into trouble. I like to refer to it sometimes when you're playing that position as seeing ghosts rather than just taking what's real and doing it. And I think he saw that when he watched the video. He was down on himself, and yet he shouldn't be that down. He still played pretty darn good in some areas, and yet he knows he can play a little bit better"

Like the defense and their ability to brush things off, McElwain says he saw that from Del Rio on Saturday when things didn’t go perfect on the field for the offense.

“There was a sense of ‘we’ll get it, we’ll get it going’,” he said. “And I thought we kind of did there. So, there are some throws that he wants back, but here’s the good thing here, the one thing he’s got to realize here is you never get it back. But what do you learn from it? And he’s one of those guys.”

McElwain wants to see more of that mindset from the rest of his offense.

“These guys gotta realize that they’ve got a chance to really be good,” he said. “You only do that through repetition and experience and that kind of stuff. What you do is you build on all of the things, the positives, and show, ‘Look, this is what you’re capable of.’ Now, overcoming the negative event or adversity or failure, that’s the key, right? And the great teams, they just clap it off and go win the next play. We’re still not there on that mindset piece.

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

“And yet, I’ve seen some steps in that direction… you see it. Something bad happens and everybody just, ‘uh’ and ‘uh.’ Well, the next play, you’re probably going to be ‘eh.’ Does that make sense? You probably do it in your life sometimes, right? When you’re kind of something maybe doesn’t go right and then you start you feel sorry for yourself instead of saying ‘OK, let me learn from this and go win the next one.’ That’s what it’s all about, and I think that’s what our defense does. They do a great job of that. We show that as a team where it’s about rebounding from when things don’t go well or you don’t get your way. You can pout about it, or you can go make something happen positive. There will be a lesson for you somewhere.”

Like the defense, the offense has had a few younger players emerge. One big surprise is freshman offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor. Taylor was recruited out of Cocoa High School as a guard, but after transforming his body before he even arrived, they told him to prepare to play tackle because they would need him there. He has been a pleasant find on a unit that still has a lot of growing up to do.

“We kind of knew what we had,” McElwain said of Taylor on the recruiting trail. “He maybe jumped in there a little quicker than what we thought. In Waany’s case, the energy in which he’s come to now, there’s been some times where things have been pretty big for him to where experience, I think, will help him. We expect him to anchor that thing down and not worry about it. He’s getting better all the time.”

One guy that came to Florida with all the accolades is freshman receiver Tyrie Cleveland. A hamstring injury kept Cleveland on the sidelines for most of fall practice leading up to the season and so they weren’t able to get him into the flow of the playbook. He had somewhat of a coming out party against Missouri notching his first touchdown reception among his three catches for 79 yards including a bomb from Del Rio for 46 yards.

McElwain believes that his emergence along with good play from junior Brandon Powell should help sophomore Antonio Callaway

 “I think so, it’ll take some (time),” he said when asked if Cleveland will be a nice boon to the group as a whole. “I thought Brandon Powell really did a good job last week, especially on third down working on the inside. So getting all those three guys kinda in there at the same time I think is going to help all of them.”

 Sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett has made great strides and has become one of, if not the hardest runner in the backfield for Florida.

“You know, when he’s taken advantage of his opportunities, I think, number 1. Number 2 is not feeling sorry for himself, you know,” McElwain said of Scarlett’s improved play from a year ago. “He’s excited about the other guys doing well and knows when he gets his opportunities he’s running hard. He’s keeping his feet moving more, last year when you saw you him you probably saw him stop his feet on contact. He’s doing a great job of not just running to the sideline, running through the inside arms of people and keeping his feet moving through contact, which I think has really helped him from a pad-level standpoint and everything else. He’s been good. He’s a great teammate and he just wants to win.”

Controlling their destiny, even with a difficult path…

With the movement of the LSU game to Baton Rouge to close out SEC play, Florida now has to play three of their four remaining conference tilts outside the confines of The Swamp. Nobody ever said things were going to be easy, and McElwain doesn’t want to hear any excuses.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “When you go through life and start whining about stuff, that drives me crazy. It is what it is. It’s gonna happen. Let’s go and just prepare this week and get ready for going to Jacksonville in a great event. Whatever happens after that, that’s the way it is. I just know we’re in a pretty good place. That’s a good thing.”

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