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SEC Media Days: The Florida Gators

The Cats and Gators hook back up on September 10th. The last time UK played in the Swamp, the BBN’s collective hearts were broken as Stoops and company valiantly competed. Last season’s matchup was another close one that could have gone either way. As the talent gap closes, so has the final score. However, the ugly losing streak continues. Will 2016 be the year?

Jim McElwain Remarks

Question: Coach, you talked about your quarterback room previously. It’s very interesting that you have two transfers, two freshmen. There’s a nice dynamic there. What’s the difference as a coach when you’re recruiting a high school kid as opposed to bringing in a transfer? One player looking a year or two down the road versus one that needs to help you right away?

McElwain: I think the key there is having that right mix. Obviously in Austin Appleby, someone who played in big games, he’s played in big stadiums, having started in the Big Ten. That’s something that’s invaluable. You know, in Luke’s case, familiarity he had kind of with what we do offensively, I think is good. The key is to see that competition, and what those guys do to give of themselves, to help those two younger guys in Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks, how they help them develop. That’s what has been kind of fun, is to see some veterans who know how to study a game plan, know how to study install. Kind of from that standpoint help those younger guys come along. Here’s the good thing. We’ve really got good arm talent. I’m excited about being able to stretch the field vertically. Should be a lot of fun.

Question: You have been a part of a couple of championship teams, obviously. Did you feel you had a championship team last year when you started out 10-1, and what is the difference between how a championship team might have finished that season and how you guys finished it out?

McElwain: Yeah, you know, that’s kind of an interesting question. I’ve been kind of driven since I was a little shaver to figure out a way to win. And it didn’t matter what we were going to — what we were participating in, whether it was basketball, Little League Baseball, you know, or whatever it was. And I think the championship piece, it’s not something you can really just go and talk about. It’s something that you have to live every single day in the development of getting a little bit better. And, for us, you know, having an opportunity to play in that game was huge, because, you know, I think it was a class of guys in the University of Florida history that might have been the first one to miss Atlanta since the games begun, you know, since they started playing that SEC Championship game. And, I don’t know, you guys will have to look it up, but it would have been pretty close. And, you know, there’s something about being at a place and the expectation to be successful, and yet understanding what it takes to be successful is a different deal. I think we learned a lot of lessons, and yet we’ve got a bunch of new guys. In fact, I think the happiest people on our campus are the people that are going to sell programs because there’s a whole bunch of new jerseys out there, and that will be a lot of fun for people to figure out who they are.

Coach Speak Interpretation

McElwain answered the quarterback room question like a coach that wanted to send a message to future quarterbacks that there’s still motivation to sign with Florida. Having two transfer, upper-class QB’s and a former 5-star true freshman on the roster appears crowded. QB transfers can be negatively used on the recruiting trail.  Also, he’s sending a message to Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby that the starting position is yet to be decided. This provides motivation for both to finish the summer strong and prepare for fall camp. If I had to guess, Luke Del Rio will be under center against UMass with Appleby at ready-reserve due to experience. Both are superior upgrades to Treon Harris.

On championship expectations after starting 10-1, McElwain points to his team’s youth when he remarked about stadium program sellers. This may be to lower fan expectation or to send a message to his youthful roster to be ready to play now. The fact that the Gators won the SEC East during McElwain’s first season was a reflection on substandard state of the SEC East. However; the veteran coach’s intelligently communicated the fact that the Gators won the East and played in Atlanta. Diversionary tactic due to late-season deflation? Not sure, but it was the right and smart play.

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

2015 Record: 10-4

2016 Opponent Prior to Kentucky: UMass

By the Numbers 2015

Offense: Averaged 23.2 and 334 yards per game. SEC’s 12th ranked team in Total Offense.

Defense: Surrendered 18.3 and 310 yards per game. Finished the season ranked 4th in SEC Total Defense.

Three Best Players

Linebacker: In 2015, Jarrad Davis totaled tackles, 3.5 QB sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. Phil Steele’s named Davis 1st Team All SEC and 1st Team All American. 

Cornerback: Jalen Tabor is one of the top 5 cornerbacks in college football. Last season numbers: 40 tackles, 1 QB sack, 3 tackles for loss, 14 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions. Phil Steele Magazine has Tabor as both 1st Team All SEC and All American.

Safety: Marcus Maye is a physical safety that specialized in stopping the run. 2015 results: 82 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Maye is preseason 2nd Team All SEC.

Interesting Notes

— Florida QB Luke Del Rio is attending his 3rd school. Started his career at Alabama before transferring to Oregon State. He played in three games for the Beavers prior to transferring to Florida.  The Gator’s other potential starting QB Austin Appleby is a Purdue grad transfer with a wealth of starting experience. 

— The Gator’s 2015 starting quarterback Treon Harris and receiver Antonio Callaway were both suspended but are attending classes. Their long-term status on the team remains unclear.

Past Two Game Results

2014: Florida 36, Kentucky 30

2015 Florida 14, Kentucky 9

How UK Wins in Gainesville

In their past two games, eleven points have separated the Cats and Gators. 2014’s non-called delay of game penalty assisted Florida to secure the win. Last season, arguably UK was a dropped touchdown pass away from a victory. With two competitive games, there should be zero Swamp intimidation factor come September 10th.

The Cats can steal a road victory by slowing the Gators run game that will feature three physical rushers: Mark Thompson, Jordan Cronkite, and Jordan Scarlett. Florida lost defensive stars Vernon Heargraves III, Keanu Neal, and Jonathan Bullard to the NFL. However, Jalen Tabor is conceivably the best cornerback in the nation and true sophomore defensive end CeCe Jefferson is poised for a breakout year. Safety Marcus Maye and linebacker Jarrad Davis lead a core group of fast and athletic defenders. To win, the solution is simple; score red zone points and take advantage of potential big plays. Painfully looking back, Ryan Timmons’ 2014 dropped post route and last September’s Dorian Baker’s missed touchdown pass opportunity were pointedly influential in the two game’s final score.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President