ATLANTA — If Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier’s offense looked predictable at Florida last season, well, that’s because it probably was.
That’s the word coming from the Florida players at SEC Media Days.
“Even my friends who know nothing about football knew what we were going to run,” senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said. “They were right about 95 percent of the time.”
Senior middle linebacker David Reese said even his aunt knew what plays were coming and when.
The Gators’ offense was predictable.
“I’ve heard,” Reese said. “My aunt used to tell me that. It’s not my side of the ball, so I can’t speak to it.”
McElwain’s offense was predictable.
Dan Mullen’s is not, apparently.
The Gators have embraced Mullen’s offense and its diversity.
“One hundred times better, to be honest with you,” Ivey said. “We’ve got a lot more options and I feel like we do a better job of utilizing our players and our weapons.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, we can put the ball in their hands and gain five to 10 yards every time. Or take deep shots, read pass option, we can confuse the defense and take a shot on them. Or we can be physical up front and just dominate the line of scrimmage. We’ve got options, it’s not a one-dimensional team.”
Barking at the ‘Dogs
Clearly, there is a gap between Florida, coming off a 4-7 season, and Georgia, which was one play away from winning the national championship in January. But the Gators say the gap isn’t as wide as last year’s score — 42-7 — would indicate.
“Oh, most definitely,” senior defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson said. “Because if you look back a year before (when UF won 24-10), that’s the same backfield, some of the same O-linemen, same defense.
“So, yeah, I would say we are that close and that score doesn’t determine who’s the better team.”
Senior middle linebacker David Reese agrees.
“Most definitely so,” Reese said. “They came to play. They had an older team that all came back for their fifth year and they had a great squad. They went far. They had two of the best backs in college football. That game, we let that one slip away.”
This certainly will provide the Bulldogs with some bulletin board material heading into this season’s game in Jacksonville.
So will this comment, also from Jefferson: “First off, hat’s off to Georgia on a great season. … When we beat them this year it’s going to feel good.”
UF’s young bucks
With junior tackle Taven Bryan moving on to the NFL, there are some questions about the Gators’ depth and experience at defensive tackle.
Jefferson certainly doesn’t seem concerned.
“You’ve got Zach Carter, Elijah Conliffe, Kyree Campbell and T.J. Slaton,” Jefferson said. “That is just a big group of guys. They walk around and they just embrace that ‘bam-bam’ mentality. They just walk around and destroy stuff. You even got Marlon Dunlap in there now.
“So many threats. I’m licking my chops over here. It can be a good (line) but it’s up to us. We have all the tools. We have everything in place. It’s just up to us.”
Jefferson singled out Slaton, who is coming off a strong spring in which he dominated at times, caving in the offensive front.
“T.J. Slaton can be whatever he wants to be,” Jefferson said. “He’s a man among boys. To be 335 pounds, 340 pounds and to run and change direction the way he does, man, that’s a rare talent. T.J. can be whatever he wants to be as long as he puts his mind to it. The only person that can stop T.J. is T.J.”
The harder he is on the Florida players, the tougher he makes it for them, the more they seem to embrace new strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage.
UF coach Dan Mullen says there’s an explanation for that.
“Everything is about development,” Mullen said. “You are either getting better or getting worse, you’re not staying the same. Every day he shows up it’s about developing this team — getting bigger, faster and stronger.
“Through winter conditioning, that first training cycle, they saw massive improvement in themselves, so it was easy for them to understand that I need to buy into this because look how much I’ve changed in a short window.
“I’ve changed and improved my body and gotten bigger, faster, and stronger. Imagine what’s going to happen over the longer term as I buy in and continue to work in the program.”
The players say they’re all in with Savage.
“The competition is insane,” Jefferson said. “When we’re running, that’s when I really found out this team is special. Because in the past it would always revert back to some type of argument. Now it’s straight, ‘Come on, I’m going to dust you.’
“It’s just embracing the grind. It’s a beautiful thing. I enjoy every day. This team enjoys every day. The energy Coach Savage and his staff bring, it’s a constant thing, every day.
“We just feed off him. That man has a way of getting in your head and making you want it more. We appreciate him for that.”
Tide quarterback TBD
Like Mullen, Alabama’s Nick Saban isn’t even close to naming a starting quarterback.
Many are assuming it will be national championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa, but that is still to be determined between him and two-year starter Jalen Hurts.
“It’s our job to give both players a very fair opportunity to have a chance to win the team at their position,” Saban said. “Obviously, both are capable. We’ll create a role for one or both of those guys on our team, and they’ll have to make a decision based on what that outcome is as to what their future is at Alabama.”
Hurts’ father has said his son will transfer if he’s not named the starter.
“We certainly would love for every player on our team to stay at the University of Alabama and graduate,” Saban said. “Jalen has a great opportunity to do that in December. So, we are hopeful that he will stay there and be a graduate regardless of what his circumstance is as a player.”