Swamp Privelege: It Means Something To Be A Florida Gator

“This is such an unbelievable place for a football game and it’s a place that, no matter where you’re at, people kind of know about the Swamp. I look at it as more so not a right but more so as a privilege to be able to play in the Swamp. To able to be a part of that history of what a great place it is.”

Privelege.

It’s a word thrown around a lot these days. Most who toss it out have no idea what it means.

Being a Florida Gator football player is a big deal. Playing in one of the loudest stadiums in college football in front of 90,000+ fans is a big deal. 

They don’t just let anybody suit up in the orange and blue. If you follow college football recruiting at all, one of the first lessons you learn is that they can’t get everybody.

But that works both ways. Not everybody can be a Florida Gator either.

Dozens or more in-state recruits every year who may have grown up Gator fans or simply want to be a Gator get turned away every year.

Just like thousands of prospective Florida Gator students get turned away each year as well.

Being a Florida Gator student athlete is a privelege just like being selected to be a Florida Gator student. 

It’s certainly not a right. 

Think about how many high school football players claim a Florida offer each year. The actual number who have an actual commitable offer is much, much smaller.

Hundreds of really good high school football players each year never get the chance to play in that stadium in a Gator uniform.

Donning the Orange and Blue and playing in the Swamp isn’t a right, it’s a privelege.

When they put on that uniform, they’re not just representing themselves and their team, they’re representing all the great, hardworking Florida Gators before them.

Jack Youngblood, Carlos Alvarez, John Reaves, Steve Spurrier, Kerwin Bell, Neal Anderson, Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Louis Oliver, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and the list goes on ad infinitum. 

So many great Gators who played on that field went on to have successful careers not only in the NFL, but in all walks of life.

“Gator Nation: it’s everywhere” is not simply a marketing slogan. 

It’s the truth!

Keeping it real.

💯👊

It means something to be a Florida Gator and it means something to be a Gator student athlete.

When Urban Meyer left and Will Muschamp took over everyone talked about a broken program.

Want the know why it was a broken program?

Somewhere along the way it stopped meaning something to Florida Gator football players to be a Florida Gator.

Somehow, the name on the back of the jersey became larger than the name on the front.

That’s a problem.

I’ve been following Gator athletics since 1977 and I can honestly say that even in the midst of an 0-10-1 season in 1979, the players on that Gator team took pride in that uniform and pride in coming out of that tunnel many years before the stadium was given the Swamp nickname.

It meant something to be a Florida Gator and it still does. 

When a Gator football player walks on to that field on game day they owe it, not only to themselves, but to those who came before them to give everything they’ve got for the orange and blue.

If they take for granted playing on that field, playing in that uniform, then they have no business being on that field or in that uni.

The Head Ball Coach used to say about recruiting, “if they don’t want to be Gators that’s fine, we’ll go find us some who do want to be Gators.” 

Those are the kind of players who understand that it’s not a right but a privelege to play on that field. 

With all the talk about new facilities, perhaps the biggest deal of all was announced by coach McElwain on Thursday’s Gator Talk radio program.

“(We’re) putting in a spot that is a former Gator locker room,”McElwain said. “A place that they (former Gator players) can come back here and work out and know that it’s home, and in turn now they have an opportunity to show the guys that are here working out what it’s like to be in the National Football League.”

“I’m one of these guys that wants them back here as much as possible because this was home for them and such a big place for them moving on to the next level.”

“You know what’s also really cool?” McElwain asked. When they make a play and chomp.”

That is really cool because it’s all part of building the Gator brand but it also shows how much respect they have for that uniform and for playing on the field. 

And having former players walking through that locker room will be a constant reminder that they’re playing not just for themselves but for those that came before them.

What better way to learn that playing in the Swamp is a privelege? 

And what better way to teach them that it actually means something to be a Florida Gator? 

Advertisements

Coach McElwain’s Blueprint For Success: Just Do Your Job

“I think the best thing that really occurred in that, when you talk about a common goal, some guys not worrying about the individual stats piece. Because these guys got a lot of people in their ears telling them they’ve got to have this and that but ultimately the people that make the decisions, when you talk about the next level, actually look at how you do your job. And the guys up front, Ivie, Brantley, Cox, some guys just did an outstanding job of doing their job, taking care of their responsibilities, and it allowed some other people around them to really, really play good.”

Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain

Do your job.

Pretty simple, right?

Sounds like it. Seems like common sense.

But is it really THAT simple?

I’ve had the good fortune to work in a number of industries over my career. I’ve owned a construction business, I’ve managed restaurants, bars, retail stores, car rental agencies, and even spent some time in sales management.

One of the most common themes I’ve preached throughout was to simply do your job. 

Nowadays, everyone’s got a formula, an action plan, tricks of the trade, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. Companies inundate employees with volumes of paperwork designed to achieve objectives, track performance, map out goals, etc…

Not to downplay any of that because certainly all that is useful, right? Why would they invest so much money, time, and energy if it wasn’t?

But I’m old school. 

My favorite phrase has always been “just do your job.” You can get lost in all of the glitz, the glamour, or the sheer volume of noise in the system and make the first and biggest mistake: you forget to just do your job. 

Want to be successful? Just do your job.

Easy enough.

Just… Do… Your job!

Where am I going with this?

Well coach Mac made a point to open his Monday media season after a blowout victory over Kentucky with that speech. The big picture was that he was talking about his offensive and defensive units feeding off each during that victory because both units played with a common goal. 

And he got down to the root, the most basic aspect of it, and that was players simply doing their job.

“That’s kind of how this thing works,” McElwain said. “Until we get that consistently-that’s when we’re going to have a good football team, when that giving of yourself for the benefit of others, that thought, playing with a common goal, a team goal.”

Football is a team sport. Much like any organization it is made up of various parts which, in turn, are made up of people who are all working towards a common goal. In order for that team or organization to be successful, it needs everyone to do their job.

Sometimes in sports as with organizations, you have people want that maybe want to be the superstar. They want to make the play, or grab the attention and rather than doing their job they step out and do something else that maybe isn’t their job. 

What happens?

The organization breaks down. 

Everybody has a particular role that they play and that role is important even if they don’t get the attention maybe they wish they did.

Everybody can’t be the superstar, everybody can’t make the play, everybody can’t score the touchdown. Some people, their main job is to set up the play, to block downfield, to pass protect, to eat up blocks on the line, etc… Those jobs are just as important whether they get recognition or not. 

Everybody remembers Antonio Callaway’s huge catch and run to beat Tennessee last season, but what was more important was the huge block by Brandon Powell that took out, not one, but two Tennessee defenders. Without that block Florida possibly loses that game and doesn’t go to the SEC championship game.

One of the hardest things to teach wide receivers is to block. Not necessarily how to block but to have the desire to do it. 

Most come out of high school as the superstar at their school and they have to learn to be unselfish. They have to learn the mindset of giving of oneself for the benefit of others as coach Mac said. 

That’s working toward a common goal. Give of yourself for the benefit of your team’s goal.

On Saturday against Kentucky, one of the biggest things that stands out on tape is how well the defensive line did at standing their ground and taking out blockers, allowing Alex Anzalone and others to use their athleticism to make plays.

Yeah some other guys looked good to the fans, got their name called out by announcers, but the unselfish job by those lineman was as important if not more important. 

That’s giving of yourself for the common goal, the team goal.  

The best way to do that?

Just do your job!

High, Low: Which Florida Gator Team Will Show Up?

“Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently.”

Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain

Two games into 2016 for the Florida Gators and it’s already been a tale of two seasons.

In this case, however, they played low and played high.

The first game against lowly UMass the Gators played low. They couldn’t get any consistency offensively and went into the fourth quarter clinging to a 10-7 lead with nervous fans fearing the upset.

It was the usual suspects once again for the Gators. 

The offensive line got little push in the run game, and had difficulties in pass protection. The rushing attack was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, playing in his first collegiate start, looked the part often missing open receivers and seemingly playing tentatively while suffering form numerous dropped passes.

For the most part, though, they were simply inconsistent, particularly in the red zone and on third down.

Eventually, however, the Gators were able to pull out a late 24-7 victory but overall it was a very lethargic effort.

“To be honest I don’t think they’re real proud of what they did (against UMass),” McElwain said. “They played ok in that first game. That’s what it was, it was just ok.”

Against Kentucky, however, the Gators were anything but lethargic. They came out from the opening kickoff fired up, composed, focused, and ready to play a physical game.

They appeared to get the message that coach Mac was preaching all week.

“You can’t just go out and be ok, and that’s…a good thing,” McElwain said. “I thought that they took that to heart and they played well this last game.”

“Played well” could be an understatement. Going into the game popular sentiment seemed to be that Kentucky might finally break a 29 game losing streak. 

They didn’t. 

In fact, Kentucky was never really even in the game. The Gators cruised from start to finish and laid a 45-7 whipping on the Wildcats and it could have been worse. 

Gators kicker Eddie Piniero missed two field goals and the Gator defense pitched a shutout holding Kentucky to 78 total yards until a late scoring drive during scrub time.

So now the Gators face a North Texas State team who should come in as huge underdogs.

Which Gator team will show up?

“I think that the challenge moving forward is to see how this team is going to respond-see how this Gator team is going to respond. Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently. This will be a huge week for us as far as our guys understanding that never, ever let an opportunity pass you by. And this another opportunity for us to go out and get a little bit better.”

Will the team that showed up against Kentucky arrive at the Swamp on Saturday?

Or will they go back and play down to their opponent as they have for several years now?

“Great teams they learn how to prepare and go out and be proud of how they play and realize you’re only given so many opportunities to go do this. For us, I think we need to really focus on the now, focus on the things that you’ve got to do to go out and be proud of what you do.” 

And that is really the crux of the issue. 

Often fans who love to complain about lackluster efforts against overmatched opponents will actually go and try to rationalize it.

“Oh it was just UMass”, or in the case of Tennessee fans, “that App State team is better than everyone gives them credit for,” or “App State could compete in the SEC.” 

Do they actually listen to themselves?

Forget the BS. 

Every game is an opportunity to get better as coach Mac says. It’s important for the team to take advantage of each and every opportunity to get better. Sure, the final score only matters to bookies and bettors as long as they win, but playing fundamentally sound football and learning against opponents who aren’t your teammates and are actively trying to beat you is of the utmost importance down the road.

When the Gators play Tennessee, or LSU, or Georgia, they’ll perform with the same habits they created against UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas State. The more fundamentally sound they are in those games, the more fundamentally sound they’ll be against the big guys.

So North Texas State will arrive in the Swamp on Saturday with big eyes and and bigger ambitions, but the Gators need to arrive themselves with even bigger ambitions understanding, as coach Mac preaches, that they only get so many opportunities to get better.

This is one.

And they get less and less each and every game.

Will the Gators be proud of what they put on tape?

4th and Short: Gators Demolish Kentucky Behind Dominant Effort, Streak Continues


This was the year when many felt Kentucky might finally end their losing streak to the Florida Gators after 29 consecutive losses.

‘Twas not to be on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in The Swamp as the Gators put on a show dominating the Wildcats 45-7. 

Behind the brilliant play of sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, the Gators amassed 564 total yards of offense and the Wildcats never really threatened.

Del Rio passed for 320 yards completing 19 passes in 32 attempts with 4 td’s and 1 interception. 

The big play was a beautiful 78 yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway on a play action where Del Rio hit him perfectly in stride.


Callaway led all receivers with 5 catches for 129 yards.

The Gators came out running the ball inside early pounding the Kentucky defensive line which gave up over 200 yards last week. 

That ability to run inside set up the play action to Callaway and left the Wildcat defense on their heels as the Gators continued to run the ball throughout with great success.

Once again it was a running back by committee approach as the Gators rotated four backs throughout the game. 

True freshman Lamical Perine led all Gator rushers with 17 carries for 105 yards helping the Gators to 244 yards rushing overall.

Perine also had one reception for a 28 yard touchdown.


Perhaps the best stat of the day for the Gators offense was their efficient 14-20 (70%) on third down. 

Third down, particularly third and long, has been an issue for a while with the Gators offense but behind a calm Del Rio and an offensive line that played much better this week, they made big play after big play and drove the ball repeatedly for long scores.

But it wasn’t all offense in the Swamp on Saturday as the Gator defense completely shut down the Kentucky offense until a late scrub td.  

The Gators defense forced four Kentucky turnovers including three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

The first interception was a nice snag by cornerback Quincy Wilson who defended the play perfectly and elevated to make the pick, which set up the deep td pass to Calloway.

Not to be outdone, All American corner Teez Tabor jumped a quick throw by Barker making a great play on the ball to come down with the interception.


Safety Marcus Maye grabbed the other INT on an overthrown pass.

The Gators front seven led by LB Alex Anzalone completely dominated the Kentucky line shutting down the Wildcat running game and continuously harassing starting quarterback Barker.

The Gators held the Wildcats to 149 total yards including only 78 until that late scoring drive.

In one of those odd football stats, Kentucky quarterbacks completed as many passes to the Gator defense (3) as it did to Wildcat receivers.

With the win, the Gators continued the nation’s longest consecutive win streak against one opponent now at 30 and the fourth longest in NCAA history. 

My Ole Kentucky Home: Reflections On The Florida Gators Team And The Game That Time Forgot


It’s Kentucky week for the Florida Gators.

For anyone under the age of forty that probably doesn’t mean much. After all the Gators have beaten the Wildcats for 29 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the nation against one opponent and fourth longest in NCAA history.

But for those of us who remember there was a Gator team once upon a time that played a tough and much more meaningful game against Kentucky.

The greatest Florida-Kentucky game ever. 

Before The Swamp and before The Chomp and even before The Fun n Gun there was a Florida team and a Kentucky game that could not, would not ever be forgotten.

Or so we thought.

This was a Florida team that had finally gotten past arch-nemesis Georgia.

A team that had finally been in line for its first ever SEC championship.

And the only thing that stood in their way was a determined Kentucky team, a cold fall day, and a field with turf tough as concrete.

That team was the 1984 Florida Gators and it was loaded with talent. 

Head coach Charley Pell had come to Gainesville to rebuild a Gator program that had fallen on hard times finishing with a disappointing 4-7 record in 1978, former Gator quarterback Doug Dickey’s last as head coach.

The Gators fell even further in 1979, Pell’s first season, finishing 0-10-1. From the depths of that season, however, Pell would begin recruiting talent to Gainesville at a furious pace. 

Sports Illustrated had an article several years ago documenting the 1983 Florida-Auburn game as having more future NFL draft picks than any other collegiate football game.

That’s how talented the Gators were.

They entered the 1984 season with a new offensive coordinator Galen Hall after previous OC Mike Shanahan had left for the NFL as well as a redshirt freshman at quarterback by the name of Kerwin Bell.

The season began inauspiciously as they lost their opener to Miami, who were fresh off their first national title in 1983, 32-20 and then tied SEC foe LSU the next week 21-21. 

Clouds hung over the program early in the season as an NCAA investigation of Pell’s recruiting practices found numerous violations which left fans and players more than a little uneasy. 

After beating Tulane in the third game of the season, Pell was subsequently fired by Florida and Galen Hall took over as interim head coach.

From that moment on it seemed a weight had been lifted off this Gator team. Pell was notoriously uptight coaching in big games and they could never quite get over the hump. 

As usual, Georgia always seemed to stand in their way.

With the easy going Pell at the helm, however, this Gator team, this Gator season would be different. 

Behind the strong, accurate arm of Bell, the downfield speed and good hands of wide receiver Ricky Nattiel, and the triple threat backfield of Neal Anderson, Lorenzo Hampton, and John L. Williams, as well as a suffocating defense the Gators would go on to rattle off six consecutive victories. The streak included huge wins over Auburn and Georgia in back-to-back weeks on national tv by a combined 51-3 (24-3 and 27-0 respectively). 

Those victories propelled the Gators into the top ten of the AP poll, one of two major polls used to determine national champions back then.

More importantly, however, the Gators were tied with LSU for first place in the SEC and would simply need a victory over Kentucky to gain at least a share of the SEC title.

Could this finally be the year that the Gators won an SEC championship, something that had eluded them throughout their existence? After all they had finally gotten over the Georgia Bulldogs speed bump which had doomed them so many times before.

And so the stage was set.

A Gator team composed primarily of warm weather Floridians playing a tough-nosed Kentucky team on the road in the November cold of Lexington Stadium and its notoriously hard turf.

After playing emotional games the previous two weeks in wins over Auburn and Georgia, the Gators found themselves in a tight affair with the Wildcats. 

The Gators rode the legs and hands of fullback John L. Williams who rushed for 110 yards and caught 6 passes for 79 yards accounting for almost half the Gators total offensive output (394) as well as the leg of kicker Bobby Raymond who kicked six field goals on the afternoon.

But it took an Adrian White interception with 1:16 remaining, one play after a Kentucky touchdown was called back for illegal procedure, before the victory and the SEC title was secured for these Gators.

That Kentucky team finished the season 9-3 and #19 in the final AP poll and gave the Gators all they could handle that day in the bitter cold on the tough Lexington turf but this Florida team would not be denied. 

A loss by LSU that same day to SEC cellar dweller Mississippi State gave the Gators the undisputed crown.

It wouldn’t be undisputed for long, however.

The title would later be stripped ex post facto in a vote by SEC presidents who subsequently passed a rule making teams on NCAA probation ineligible for the SEC crown.

Despite this, the team finished the season with nine straight victories and were crowned national champions by a multitude of publications including the New York Times and the Sporting News.

Sadly, the school does not recognize a national title and no longer recognizes this team for anything other than their record. And the players on that team have never been recognized for their accomplishments. 

But, regardless, it was on a cold November afternoon on a rigid Lexington, Kentucky field against a tough Wildcat team, three years before the current streak began, that the Florida Gators accomplished what many thought would never be accomplished by any Gator team. 

It was a team… a game… and a title that time forgot.

Grading The Gators: Florida Slides By Minutemen On Steve Spurrier Night


On a night when the Florida Gators honored the architect of the Fun N Gun, they squeezed out a Snore N Bore 24-7 victory over a determined UMass Minutemen football team in the season opener for both teams.

Steve Spurrier, the former Florida Heisman winner and national championship coach, was honored at halftime as his name was officially attached to the stadium he nicknamed the Swamp.

Prior to that, however, he was honored as the season’s first Mr. Two Bits leading the crowd in the cheer made famous by retired insurance salesman George Edmonson. Mimicking track star Usain Bolts signature move Spurrier seemed to relish his role as Mr. Two Bits and the crowd roared their approval.

For three quarters, however, there wasn’t much to cheer. In fact, it was eerily similar to previous seasons as the Gators clung to a 10-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. 

For fans it was certainly a ho-hum affair as penalties and unforced errors repeatedly stalled Gator drives and extended UMass drives. On the night, the Gators had eight penalties for 80 yards, most coming at inopportune times.

In fact, the lone Minutemen scoring drive was aided by three Gator penalties for 35 yards on a drive that should have ended quickly with a three and out if not for a roughing the passer call on linebacker Jarrad Davis on a failed third down play.

“Not happy with the penalties especially the three personal fouls,” head coach Jim McElwain said in the postgame press conference. “That’s not how you play winning football.”

“The thing that bothers you probably more than anything is they were unforced,” he added. “Three majors (penalties), that’s just unacceptable.”

On this night the defense was an enigma. They held the Minutemen to 187 total yards and one touchdown but, beside the unforced penalties, they gave up a few big plays on third and fourth down that a good SEC defense shouldn’t against the 122nd rated FBS team. 

On the touchdown drive alone, the Gators gave up a 4th and 14 and had problems wrapping up the Minutemen quarterback Ross Comis letting him slip away or juke players in position to stop him.

” I thought our defense played… Just ok,” McElwain said. “We can definitely play better, and we will.”

“We just got to play smarter. We can’t put ourselves in a hole.” 

While the front seven was a bright spot for the Gators, repeatedly harassing the quarterback and running back, they whiffed too many times on tackles for loss and the defensive backfield really showed the depth issues coach Mac talked about in the preseason.

With All American corner Jalen “Teez” Tabor sitting out due to a suspension and his replacement Duke Dawson sidelined early due to an arm injury, the Gators were exposed with sophomore Chris Williamson, freshman Chauncey Gardner, and JUCO transfer Joseph Putu filling in.

Overall, I’d give the Gators defense a B- mainly due to the personal foul penalties and missed tackles and some backend depth issues that will need to be corrected moving forward.

Individual superlatives go to Jabari Zuniga who came in with energy and stayed in the backfield, linebacker Alex Anzalone who had a monster game despite a couple missed tackles, linebacker Jarrad Davis, who also had a monster game but a couple terrible penalties, and safety Marcus Maye.

The two linebackers were constantly in the backfield, around the ball, and seemed unblockable at times.

“Alex [Anzalone] and Jarrad [Davis] it’s hard for me to think there’s a better two in the country,” McElwain said.

Marcus Maye was another ball hawk who was continually in the backfield on blitzes and in run support. 

On offense, sophomore Luke Del Rio took the reins of the Florida offense, the first start of his college career, and had mixed results. 

On his first two series Del Rio went 8-11 for 98 yards and a touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway. He also had two runs for 9 yards on the scoring drive.

On the Gators opening possession, he led them into UMass territory picking up a couple of first downs before poor blocking on third down ended the drive before they could put any points on the board.

After the first two drives, however, his play became more erratic, missing open receivers and dancing around with ill-timed scrambles.

He finished the game a respectable 29-44 for 256 yards (5.8 ypc) with 2 TD’s and no interceptions.

While his performance wasn’t flashy, he didn’t turn the ball over and in this offense that’s perhaps most important. 

“I thought Luke did some pretty darn good things,” McElwain said. “Took care of the football. He put it where it was supposed to be.”

“I think if there’s some real positives out of it… the turnover piece was something that I thought was really good as far as taking care of the football,” he said. “And you know what, that’s how you become successful as a team.”

And they were successful on Saturday night in the Swamp even if it was painstaking for fans to watch at times through the middle segments of the game.

One group that struggled on the night was the offensive line who never seemed to be able to get much of a push and often had breakdowns in pass protection.

On the first series after picking up a couple of quick first downs, a breakdown between left guard Martez Ivey and running back Jordan Cronkrite left a defensive tackle in Del Rio’s face forcing him to throw it away ending the first series in UMass territory.

That sort of sloppy line play would continue throughout with miscommunication and a lack of energy and sense of urgency.

“I’ll tell you what bothers me [about the offensive line] is the way they just mope around and walk around out there instead of hustling to the line of scrimmage and getting ready to go,” McElwain said.

“Their energy has to be a lot better. Those tackles have to get up and get set so we can execute and get more plays than what we did in this game.”

The line wasn’t the only issue offensively however.

There were several drops in the passing game and few explosive plays.

“We didn’t have any [explosive plays],” McElwain lamented. “We’ve got to get ‘em.”

“We dropped a couple. We had the first one pretty much wide open. That’s something we’ve get to get a little bit better at, obviously.”

That first one was the first play from scrimmage where Del Rio missed a wide open Antonio Callaway overthrowing him when he had two steps on the defensive back.

Gators have certainly got to find a way to hit those plays. You don’t get them very often.

One of the lone bright spots on offense was running back Jordan Scarlett who ran 13 times for 70 yards on a night where there were few holes and little push by the offensive line.

He’s one of the few that continually played with effort and energy repeatedly fighting for extra yardage making it difficult on the Minutemen defense to bring him down.

The other two offensive superlatives go to receivers Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell who scored both of the Gator touchdowns. 

Callaway (8 catches, 72 yards, td) and Powell (7 catches, 73 yards, td) both made clutch catches and fought hard to break tackles and carry the offense.

Powell’s td was especially nice after catching a screen, shaking the defenders attempted tackle, and then turning on the jets and racing down the sidelines to the endzone. 

Overall, though, I’d give the offense a C grade with the line struggles, untimely penalties, and lack of big plays.

There’s a lot for them to correct this week as they head into their SEC opener against Kentucky.

On special teams, the star of the show was kicker Eddie Piniero, the social media sensation who came in and solidified a horrid placekicking situation kicking three field goals (3-3 long 49) and making his lone extra point. He also repeatedly booted his kickoffs into the end zone with only two returns for a 13.5 yard average.

Punter Johnny Townsend was his usual dependable self with 4 punts for 144 yards a 44.5 yard average.

Special teams gets an A grade. They did what was expected and while there was only one flashy return by Antonio Callaway, they didn’t do anything to hurt the Gators, they shut down the UMass return game, and they left no points on the field.

Overall, it was a rather pedestrian but solid opening effort. The Gators have a lot to tweak this week as they prepare for Kentucky who blew a 35-10 lead and lost 44-35 to Southern Miss.

In Search Of: Florida Gators Looking To Solve Offensive Woes


In the late 70’s, Leonard Nimoy, Spock from the original Star Trek tv series, hosted a quasi-sci-fi tv series called In Search Of.

Today, as fall camp has already begun for the Florida Gators in preparation for the 2016 football season, head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could host an episode of their own as they go in search of a solution to last season’s offensive troubles.

By now everyone is fully aware of how the Gators offense tanked after Will Grier’s suspension.

To anyone that watched last season’s offensive debacle there was certainly a stark contrast between the play of Grier and that of his successor Treon Harris.

However, both players have since transferred out leaving Luke Del Rio, who transferred in before last season, to compete with grad transfer Austin Appleby for the starting quarterback job this season.

What will it take to improve on last season’s putrid 111th (out of 127 teams) ranking in total offense?

With that in mind coach Mac was asked in his media session on Wednesday what a successful offense looks like to him.

“I look at it as efficiency in staying on the field,” he replied. “Obviously being successful keeping your defense off the field by not only prolonging series, but you know, the three-and-outs thing just kills you, all right.”

“And ultimately, the production of points, when you’re down inside that score area, is something that to me kind of defines it.”

With that being said let’s look at a couple areas on offense that must improve if the Gators have any shot of defending their SEC East title this season and why they should be improved.

Third Down

Last season, the Gators finished 95th nationally in third down conversion percentage. They converted a mere 36.4 percent (75 of 206) of their third down opportunities. 

This means that they failed to convert on almost two-thirds of their third down chances.

That’s not just bad, it’s putrid.

Tough to have any kind of consistency when you can’t keep your offense on the field.

Not to mention the pressure it puts on your defense.

If third down is money down then offensively the Gators went belly up. 

Broke.

Insufficient funds.

Bankrupt.

Destitute.

You get the point.

They have got to be better on third down.

Period. 

What will it take for them to be more successful on third down?

Better offensive line play…

The Gators started three true freshman last season and only had one returning player who had ever played a down at Florida when the season began. Behind them were more freshman and ineligible transfers.

I’ve been following Gator football since 1977, and I can’t remember a more inexperienced offensive line than what they started the season with last year.

Not exactly a prescription for offensive success for a first year head coach.

Manufacturing ten wins and a division title was pure wizardry. And, of course, a little luck.

Surprisingly, the young line actually played fairly well overall last season. There were some clean pockets and running lanes but the line play was simply too inconsistent. A lot of that can be attributed to poor communication.

Particularly on third down.

Blitzes, stunts, and other tricks can be difficult for young, inexperienced players to recognize and execute properly against. 

They saw a lot of that on third down last season.

The good news?

They gained a ton of valuable experience after having everything thrown at them including the kitchen sink.

While it might be foolish to expect this line to improve by leaps and bounds, we can surely expect improvement.

And after watching the two end of season losses to Bama and FSU repeatedly over the summer, I can assure you, minor improvements in technique and recognition should pay off big dividends this season.

“I would challenge us to be dramatically better [offensively],”  McElwain said. “Now, are we going to get to where we are eventually going to be in the program? No.”

“But with that being said, I think the experience we developed up front is going to be very helpful. And I’m going to challenge those guys to help us get a little better.”

“But you know, I see it drastically much better in operations… or at least winning half a battle up front, right.”

After one practice, it was already obvious to the staff that the line is farther ahead this year than last.

“In a practice like this the one thing I could tell was they [offensive line] were set into the right place in pass protection and they weren’t just sitting there, they were actually talking to each other,” McElwain said. “Which tells me they were communicating at least based off the Mike point, where their combination blocks were going. So I’d say in that case, those guys are ahead of, obviously, where they were a year ago.”

Better quarterback play…

As important as improved line play is, perhaps even more important might be improved play from the quarterback position.

While Grier had his ups and downs, Harris was outright terrible on third down. 

Where do we begin? 

Batted down passes, poor throws, missed reads, happy feet, etc…

Good news for Gator fans is that all of the Gator quarterbacks this season are 6-1 or taller meaning there will likely be less batted down screen passes, a staple of this offensive system. 

I believe both Del Rio and Appleby are a huge step up from Treon and Grier.

Del Rio has experience in the system, is a coaches son which provides a level of intuition others may not have, and he is smart and poised in the pocket.

“I think the big thing there has more to do with growing up around the game,” McElwain said about Luke being a coach’s son. “And you know what, probably seeing it from a little bit different perspective; I think understanding how you can help your team win, sometimes by throwing the ball away and allowing your defense to be successful.”

“You know, there’s certain things in playing the position, I think that help. I think the fact that he grew up around it, is something that obviously helps him.”

Appleby is an experienced game day college quarterback. While his career stats are nothing to write home about, it’s hard to discount the effect of having significant game experience in the pocket particularly considering he’s surrounded by far better skill talent than he had at Purdue.

Together the two combined to go 19-23 for 256 yards and a couple td’s in the spring game. 

While it was only a spring scrimmage, it is important to note that the quarterbacks were finding and hitting the open receivers, something the Gators qb’s struggled to do consistently last season.

“He (Del Rio) did a good job letting the game come to him,” Florida’s second-year coach Jim McElwain said after the spring game adding “it’s amazing what happens when you throw it to the open guy. You get a pretty good stat line.”

Red Zone

As bad as the Gators offense was on third down, they were even worse in the red zone where they finished 124th out of 127 FBS teams.

They scored on only 34 of 51 red zone trips (66.7%) which means they failed to score on a third of their trips inside the red zone. 

That’s unacceptable.

The issues for Florida in the red zone were very similar to their issues on third down. Poor quarterback play and inconsistency along the offensive line.

All too often when they got down into scoring position breakdowns at those two spots doomed them.

Kicking woes…

However, an even bigger issue reared its head down in the red zone: poor place kicking.

When I say poor place kicking, I really mean horrid place kicking.

Have I already used the word putrid?

Out of those 51 red zone opportunities the Gators came away with 5 field goals.

Count em.

1…2…3…4…5 field goals.

Over the course of an entire season.

There are kickers that kick 5 in a game.

The Gators could only manage 5 the whole season. 

When a team gets into the red zone which is inside the opponents 20 yard line, a field goal should be almost automatic. 

Starting kicker Austin Hardin was 5-14 from all distances overall an unheard of 35.7%. That has to be some kind of modern era Gator record for kicking futility.

It led to coach McElwain taking chances by electing to go for it on 4th down in the red zone which mostly led to turnovers on downs.

Driving deep into an opponent’s territory without coming away with points is demoralizing for your offense but even more so for your defense. 

The good news? 

Hardin is gone (transferred out) and in his place is JUCO transfer Eddie Piniero who became an Internet sensation with viral videos of him kicking 77 yard field goals.

Despite being already committed to Bama, Piniero flipped his commitment to and eventually signed with the Gators after a whirlwind courtship by coach Mac.

He brought Piniero in on an official visit and stressed both the Gators need for a top flight kicker and the location being close to home so his family could see him play.

The power play by McElwain worked as Piniero flipped his commitment shortly after his visit to UF.

Will he be kicking 70+ yard field goals for the Gators?

Not likely.

However, he should be automatic inside of 40 yards and high percentage inside of 55.

That’s all they want, that’s all they need.

Consistency is the key to changing their red zone fortunes this season and Piniero along with returning backup Jorge Powell (2-3 last season) should provide that. 

Which should be a huge boost towards moving the Gators up from #100 in scoring last season.