GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It took two tries at the same question Monday to pin Jim McElwain down on a definitive answer about whether he’s considering taking over Florida’s offensive play-calling.
“No, we’re not doing that right now,” he said the second time. “You know, we need to make sure that the guys that need to touch it, touch it. Those things need to get called.”
That’s an understatement.
Florida’s fanbase erupted in frustration after the Gators’ 33-17 loss to No. 11 Michigan on Saturday as the offense mustered only 192 yards, scored only 3 points (the defense supplied the rest), was manhandled up front and looked generally unimaginative while failing to get the ball to key playmakers.
It was Florida’s lowest yardage output since the 2015 SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama and second-lowest overall in McElwain’s tenure here.
Social media became a form of group therapy afterward as fans unleashed on Nussmeier, whose offenses have ranked 111th nationally in 2015 (334 yards per game) and 116th last season (344 yards per game) in his first two years with the Gators.
McElwain stuck up for Nussmeier, who worked with him at Michigan State from 2003-05, followed him as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State in 2008 and again at Alabama from 2012-13 before joining him here.
“Put the ire towards me,” McElwain said. “I mean, I’m the one responsible for it and I plan on getting it fixed.”
A preseason full of optimism and confidence that this might be the season the offense breaks out was seemingly deleted somewhere during the midst of four demoralizing quarters of football.
The Gators were without their top two offensive playmakers with running back Jordan Scarlett and wide receiver Antonio Callaway suspended, but they also failed to utilize the playmakers they did have available.
After a spring and summer of hype and buildup for what versatile former QBs turned slot weapons Dre Massey and Kadarius Toney would add to the offense, with McElwain repeatedly saying the Gators had to get the ball in Toney’s hands, Massey caught 1 pass for 2 yards and Toney didn’t touch the ball until less than four minutes remained in the game.
McElwain said Saturday they were both a big part of the game plan and that Florida “didn’t get to” some things.
On a day where Florida struggled to get anything going in the running game— totaling 11 yards on 27 carries (including lost sack yardage) — its best run came when freshman Malik Davis broke free for an 8-yard gain. And yet, he didn’t touch the ball again the rest of the game.
“You know, it’s one of those things where, there were a whole lot of things that in the plan, in the series that we were putting together, it’s tough to call when they’re in your back pocket all the time,” McElwain said Monday. “And yet, we’ve got to get better as a staff. We’ve got to make sure that things fit, and we’ll put a plan together this week.”
McElwain also deflected culpability to the offensive line, which had a disastrous 2017 debut while allowing 6 sacks and creating few running lanes.
He called out the line’s pad level and said instead of the usual two days a week “in the cage,” which forces the players to stay low, they’ll be in there five time this week.
As for Nussmeier, though, McElwain reiterated his belief that his long-time friend is capable of getting the offense turned around.
“I’ve seen what he can do. I’ve seen what he’s done,” McElwain said. “And he’s a guy, he takes a lot of it personal and sometimes in this business that’s the way it is whether it’s the quarterback, whether it’s the coordinator, whatever. That’s part of the gig. And yet also we’ve got to step up around him too and make sure we’re getting some things accomplished in some other spots.”
McElwain said the criticisms from fans filter through to him mostly from the media, and he understands it.
But as the collective opinion within the fan base shifts to one of doubt and concern, he remains resolute he and Nussmeier will fix this.
“I think it’s one game, you know, and yet I just love the fact we have fans. I think that that’s a good thing. I don’t take that as a negative at all,” McElwain said. “That’s one of the things that drew me here was the fact that there’s a lot of passionate people out there for the Gators, and you know what, we’re all entitled to our opinion and I appreciate it. I just know that we’re working to build this thing into something great.”
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