ARLINGTON, Texas — The setup couldn’t have been better.
A high-profile, top-20 matchup between two premier programs in Jerry World. Picture-perfect season opener on the biggest football stage there is in America.
But Saturday wasn’t about fancy uniforms and ginormous jumbotrons. Florida-Michigan was a statement game for third-year coaches Jim McElwain and Jim Harbaugh.
A win would have been a sign of progress for McElwain, whose Gators got drubbed 41-7 by the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl just 20 months ago.
Few starters remain from those 2015 teams, and McElwain believed this year’s squad could compete with No. 11 Michigan. Instead, Florida was two defensive plays away from losing by 30 … again.
“They whooped us,” McElwain said after the 33-17 loss. “Plain and simple, take your whooping. I’m taking it.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for McElwain, who seemed to wholeheartedly believe that his offensive line had turned a corner. Instead, the Gators got beat on the edge and manhandled in the trenches.
Couple that with the suspensions of their top two offensive players and an unsettled quarterback competition, and you get 3 offensive points and less than 200 yards of total offense.
“We weren’t able to really generate anything,” McElwain said. “Really just disappointed — not in how they prepared; I thought they prepared hard. We had a tough camp. Guys were ready to play. Their strength overtook us.”
McElwain admitted that Florida’s offense was predictable once again and said the “creative piece” needs to improve. Even without receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett both out, Florida still had a handful offensive skill players who were ranked top-200 overall recruits in the Class of 2016.
Those guys simply did not touch the ball enough against Michigan.
“They were a big part (of the game plan). There was some stuff we didn’t get to,” McElwain said. “The guys that weren’t here, that was a choice. That had no impact on the outcome of this game.
“I’m disappointed, and yet I can see where we’re at and I can see the (other) pieces. I think sitting down and probably more than anything cleaning up that get-it-to list and let those guys go out and make some plays.”
Those plays weren’t there Saturday, but they will be next weekend. The Gators face a Northern Colorado cupcake at home and can put this embarrassing loss behind them.
However, SEC play is looming and it’s unclear when the 10 suspended players will return. Once they do, there’s no excuse for the Gators to struggle offensively.
As awful as their unit looked against Michigan, that’s one of the best defense they’ll face this season and quarterback Feleipe Franks now has the first-game jitters out of his system.
The return of Callaway and Scarlett could kick-start the offense and help Franks settle in as the starter. Those get-it-to guys — along with the aforementioned 2016 signees — must show up (not a given) and show out for Florida to become a legitimate championship contender.
But on Saturday, with the opportunity for a signature win, the Gators dropped to 3-8 against top-25 teams under McElwain.
“We’ve got to look at a lot of things,” he said. “And yet, it’s not time to hit the panic button. We’ve got a good football team. We’ll come back and do the right thing and be OK.”
The post Florida falters again on big stage, but Jim McElwain isn’t hitting panic button yet appeared first on SEC Country.
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