McElwain was quick to the podium after the blowout win. He was also quick to tell of his pride for his injury beleaguered Gators and all of the adversity they faced just to be in the spot to play in the game Saturday evening.
“I'm proud of this football team,” he said. “I'm proud of our guys, what they've gone through this year, this season. You know what? They came and laid it on the line today.”
I don’t think many people that watched the game would argue that the gators played hard and never quit. The final score wasn’t indicative of the game as much as it was the disparity in the number of premiere athletes on one side more than the other. Those big timers made some big time, game changing plays that were the big difference.
Obviously, you're not going to beat anybody giving them the ball four times, especially a team like Nick has put together, which in my opinion, is the best team top to bottom that he's had since he's been there. That's a credit to him, his coaching staff, their commitment, their commitment to him, and what he's able to do.
One particular series stood out. Florida drove the ball 66 yards and was first and goal at the three yard line with the score 33-16 early in the third quarter. With first and two yards to go, Florida couldn’t meander over the goal line in four downs, they turned the ball over and Alabama drove 98 yards for a 40-16 score.
“We had a pretty good plan, I felt,” McElwain said. “We put some dents in them. Would have liked to have pounded that one in there. Realize maybe, take the field goal, (and) get it to a two-score game. But at that point, I felt momentum-wise, we could bang one of them in there -- I don't know what they were at, 33 or something like that. I felt we could maybe get them puckered up a little bit.
“I will tell you this. I didn't come here to be close. We came here to be champions of the SEC. That's what you do when you're at the University of Florida, and that's the expectation, and I understand that. I'm proud of those seniors that chose to come back. I thought what Jarrad Davis did today was fantastic. That speaks a lot about a guy who was willing to lay it all out there for his team and for his family.”
Davis started the game at middle linebacker after missing the last two with a high ankle sprain. It was just a matter of whether he would tweak that ankle or not if he would be able to remain on the field. That finally happened in the fourth quarter and he had to leave.
With the disparity in talent, Florida couldn’t afford to turn the ball over. They did so four times, three interceptions by senior quarterback Austin Appleby and punt that was blocked. All led to Crimson Tide points.
There was a miscommunication between Appleby and sophomore receiver Antonio Callaway on one of the interceptions, but his first was one that he should not have thrown.
“I think the first one, you know, felt a little pressure and let it hang high over the middle late,” McElwain said of his quarterback who was 26-39 for 261 yards and two touchdowns. “That's the number one rule of playing football there, not a good deal.
“We knew we had to get them off balance, and we tried to do that with some of the play action stuff. They've made some other teams turn the ball over, I think, this year, and I knew going in we had to take care of the ball. I talked about that, and we didn't.”
At the end of the day, Alabama is the number one team in the country for a reason and Florida really isn’t that close. Alabama has gone from a big opposing team, to one that accentuates speed as well... something that used to be a Florida staple.
“I don't see a lot of weaknesses, even in the depth piece, you know,” McElwain said. “And the thing I see is they're built a little different. I think overall, just the overall team speed is different. There aren't a lot of teams that can run even with us. We've got fast guys. And they've really accumulated a lot of speed at some spots where they were always big.
“Credit them for the amount of guys that they've recruited and the bodies they've recruited and the quality they've recruited. They keep -- they never slow down in anything they do as an organization. They're always pushing for what the next thing is, and when they finish one thing, it's on to another that's already been planned. It's the same way they do in recruiting. It's the whole organization itself believing, aligned, and they trust Coach, and they've given him -- he's done a great job with it.
“I think this is the best 85 that they've probably traveled with to the SEC Championship game. I mean, that's a real ball squad.”
Reflective of expectations…
Not many had Florida pegged to make the SEC Championship Game this year. When they lost in week three to Tennessee it almost seemed impossible. Yet, this team persevered through dozens of injuries, a hurricane that displaced a home game to an away game against a ranked opponent, and just tough circumstances all around.
McElwain says his guys fought hard throughout.
“Well, there's a lot of positives when you look back at the expectations that were there that weren't much for this team,” he said. “As I told them, they've just got to close out the noise from the outside and bond together, and let's just go win and not worry about anybody else.
“I'm just happy to be here and coach my tail off with the guys we've got. It is what it is. I mean, you guys have been there. You see it. I'm proud of this football team because I know what they've been through, and they're a good group of guys that play their tails off for the Gators, and I'm proud of them.