Jim McElwain doesn’t want to overhype Florida’s opener with Michigan

GAINESVILLE, Fla.  — With the local focus on Florida coach Jim McElwain’s pending quarterback decision, he made light of his Michigan counterpart being less revealing in the buildup to their Sept. 2 season-opening showdown.

“We haven’t gone into Michigan true prep at all. When you guys get their roster, let me know so maybe I can figure out who we’re playing,” said McElwain, jokingly on Wednesday.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan hasn’t publicly updated its official football roster since August of 2016, though Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said he would put out a new roster Aug. 30.

NJ.com went as far as filing a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the roster.

“I think the big thing is how we go about it every year. It’s really about what we do; it really has nothing to do with what they do,” McElwain said more seriously.

The No. 17 Gators may not have begun their “true prep” on No. 11 Michigan yet, but Florida safety Marcell Harris commented at SEC Media Days last month (before his season-ending injury) that he and his teammates “watch Michigan film every day.”

The clash with Michigan is the Gators’ most notable opener since starting with No. 10 Miami in 1987, with SEC games against Ole Miss (1989) and Kentucky (1992) and a non-conference matchup with Oklahoma State (1990) the only other season starters against Power 5 foes since.

And while the Wolverines return only one defensive and four offensive starters this season, Harbaugh has established a reputation for consistency and reloading talent.

Sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary was the No. 1 national recruit in the Class of 2016 and is generating a ton of buzz this preseason, while redshirt senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is being projected as a potential first-round NFL draft pick despite serving as a backup last year.

“They’ve got some talented players. No. 3 Gary, explosive kid, fast kid. And the two inside guys are very powerful, they stay low, they use good technique,” Gators offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said. “Coach (Brad) Davis definitely points that out every day. He talks to us, he goes, ‘Hey, the inside guys are some of the best guys you’re going to face all year so we’ve got to prepare even more than we normally would.'”

McElwain, meanwhile, loathes any version of the question about how such a marquee opener puts more urgency on the preparations this preseason and perhaps sharpens the focus for his guys.

“Well, the problem I have with that question is why should it be any different, whoever you open up with?” he said Wednesday. “Any opportunity you have to go out and play, any opportunity you have to go out and compete, it shouldn’t matter. The opponent is faceless. You’re really competing against yourself. And it goes back to, are you willing to grow? And do you have the courage and the willingness to go out and do it? Or are you just going to say, ‘Oh, guy’s beating the heck out of me. You know what, I’ll turn and run and go home.”

Of course, the Gators remaining from the program’s last clash with Michigan remember the end result all too well.

The Wolverines steamrolled Florida, 41-7, in the Citrus Bowl to end the 2015 season. It’s hard not to put a face to the opposition in this case.

“Yeah, I still think about it,” offensive lineman Fred Johnson said. “I didn’t even want to look at the scoreboard at halftime. But yeah that’s on everybody’s mind just to prove ourselves, like we can do this.”

That was McElwain’s first season in Gainesville. By any metric, he’s done a nice job establishing and building his program these last two years with back-to-back SEC East titles, a groundswell of recruiting momentum and optimism for a long-awaited offensive breakout this fall.

But no, he hasn’t forgotten that lopsided loss to Michigan either.

“Well let’s just call it the way it was. A couple years ago, they physically dominated us. And there’s no doubt about it,” McElwain said. 

That was then. This is now.

And whatever that Michigan roster says, the Gators know the margin for error is going to be slim in this first game.

That’s where McElwain would prefer the focus remain.

After telling students during a pep rally Sunday that his Gators were heading to Dallas next week “to go beat the heck out of Michigan,” his tone with reporters was much different this week.

There’s no need for further hype or buildup. The anticipation for this opener is significant, both inside and outside of the Florida locker room. Now it’s about managing that.

“Any opening day game, you don’t know where they went and visited and decided to do, whether it’s offensively or defensively. And they’re the same way, I mean, they know the changes that we’re going through offensively,” he said. “So I think the big thing is to be focused on the communication and really the details of doing your job. And then you go find out. And once the game is over, one way or the other, you come back and then you go get ready for the next one. And that’s kind of the mentality. I mean, it’s a big game. But it’s a big game because it’s the next game. It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Every game is big.”

The post Jim McElwain doesn’t want to overhype Florida’s opener with Michigan appeared first on SEC Country.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.