You can’t count on Treon Harris, and at this point I don’t even care to know the reason behind his suspension for the Tennessee game.
That leaves the start of Florida’s SEC season in the hands of Will Grier. New coach Jim McElwain will need to have him ready for a better effort than the Gators showed in last week’s 14-9 win at Kentucky. Already what we’re seeing is too reminiscent of the Will Muschamp days, with the defense always on the hook to save the day.
Either way, McElwain has to keep grinding away at the rough edges of his team. When player discipline is needed, nothing else will do. Even if it means a few losses, even if some of Florida’s best players have to sit out, to compromise on that would be to undermine what McElwain is building for the long run.
Don’t want to hear that? Let’s dig in a little deeper, then. I don’t think Kelvin Taylor should have been carrying the ball late in the 31-24 win over East Carolina if McElwain was angry enough to scream and spew at the running back for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a few minutes earlier.
Taylor was flagged for doing a throat-slashing gesture in the end zone following the fourth-quarter touchdown run that put Florida up 31-17.
McElwain went ballistic on the sidelines while confronting Taylor. Later, before the media, the coach said, “Our lack of discipline and understanding of how you play the game crept up, and it was embarrassing. We’ve got a long ways to go. It starts with understanding selfish acts hurt the team and will be dealt with. And it’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore.”
Those words didn’t match the coach’s actions. After East Carolina scored to pull within a touchdown, Taylor was right back on the field as Florida attempted to run out the clock. Three times he took handoffs, gaining a net of 5 yards. It wasn’t enough to avoid a punt, or to avoid giving the ball right back to the Pirates, but in that situation, with a potentially disastrous home loss to an unranked opponent on the line, McElwain clearly trusted Taylor to handle the ball more than he did any other Gator running back.
Taylor didn’t miss any playing time the following week against Kentucky, either. Other than six carries by freshman Jordan Cronkrite, Taylor got every handoff in a game that was tense from start to finish.
Not saying that Kelvin, a former Glades Day star and son of Gator great Fred Taylor, should be drummed out of the corps for one stupid mistake. McElwain’s sideline show of disgust didn’t translate, however, into a clear demonstration of accountability.
Every coach struggles with weighing the importance of teaching against the fear of losing. McElwain, a head coach for all of 41 games between Colorado State and Florida, will get better at this, and at everything else.
For now it’s a matter of proving he’s serious. The suspensions of Harris and starting cornerback Jalen Tabor for the Tennessee game is a major part of that. The Gators wouldn’t have beaten the Vols last year in Knoxville without them.
For me, Tennessee hasn’t looked as good as everybody seemed to expect. Sure, the Vols played No. 15 Oklahoma tough in a double-overtime loss. The Sooners didn’t look like anything special last week, however, in a 52-38 win over Tulsa.
Tulsa ran up 618 total yards in a season-opening win over Florida Atlantic. Well, against Oklahoma the Golden Hurricane didn’t slow down much, totaling 603 yards and getting 427 of those on the passing of Dane Evans, who threw for four touchdowns against Oklahoma and had Tulsa within 38-31 last in the third quarter.
Put it all together and 2-1 Tennessee hasn’t done anything more amazing than Florida has to this point. It’s an even match, and one that the Gator defense could certainly wind up winning.
Harris and Tabor won’t like missing it, and McElwain won’t like missing them. There are bigger problems coming down the road, though, with Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Georgia all in a row.
It’s time to get this right, from the playbook to player attitudes. Matter of fact, the second might be more important right now.