The Back Nine: McElwain won’t call UF plays

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Florida coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, left, are tasked to improve the Gator' offense. The woes continue at the start of Year 3 of the McElwain administration. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

The Back Nine comes at you after a quick weekend in Texas that was uneventful off the field unless making your 6:15 a.m. flight home can be considered a major event.

10. So, how did you feel about Florida’s opening game, peeps? I know I have to prod the Gator Nation because you guys don’t like to vent or anything. I’m kidding, of course, because it may take me the rest of the week to delete all of the texts, emails and comments after the Annihilation in Arlington. On Monday at his usual news conference, one thing that Jim McElwain refused to do was throw offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier under the bus. I asked him about something many of you have asked me about — will Mac take over the play-calling duties? He will not. The head coach kind of McElwained around the answer but he made it clear that any criticisms should be sent his way when it comes to the offense. “Put the ire towards me,” he said. “I’m the one responsible for it and I’ll get it fixed.” That remains to be seen because for three years Gator fans have been waiting for some offense and instead have the 122nd ranked offense in the country one game into this season. And it’s not like that is an aberration.

11. Oh, and I know I didn’t respond to all of your texts and emails, but if I did I would be doing nothing but that until Thanksgiving. How many times can I reply, “I get it?” Maybe I should do a mass email. Of course, it didn’t make things any better when Will Grier went out and had the night he had against Virginia Tech. Here’s a stat for you — since Grier was busted here for a positive PED test, Florida is 13-9. I’ve said all along that his time here was a bit romanticized but he never lost and he just got it when it came to playing quarterback. He had an upside you could see that West Virginia is now experiencing. Again, he made the mistake and it’s easy to say that Florida shouldn’t have encouraged him to leave, but there’s nothing that can be done about any of that now and he’s not coming back (sorry, Kelsey). Let us not forget that what we saw out of UF on Saturday was one game and we may come to find out that Michigan is one of the nation’s best defenses again this year. I know this much — Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown is a sharp cookie. On Florida’s first series of the game, he threw five different looks at a quarterback playing in his first college game.

12. The point of the Grier stat is that he was playing behind a terrible offensive line and still managed to make enough things happen to win games. A lot of you are wondering how we could have been so wrong about THIS offensive line. Hey, all we were doing was repeating what the coaches were saying. Maybe if we were allowed to watch practices we could have told you something more realistic rather than being force-fed sugarless Kool-Aid. Maybe not. The bottom line is Florida only ran 53 plays in the game and 15 of those were in the final 5:26 of the game. That means in the first 54:34 of the game the Gators ran only 38 plays. On those 38 plays, 26 went for 2 yards or less and 11 went for negative yards. There’s a part of me that wonders if Luke Del Rio isn’t the answer but if the offensive line play doesn’t improve drastically it’s not going to matter who is back there.

13. Here’s one thing I learned Saturday and it is that I have no idea what targeting is. I thought both Devin Bush of Michigan and Florida’s Nick Washington were gone for helmet-to-helmet hits. “Different leagues, different things,” McElwain said. That was a Big 12 crew and I guess they have different replay dudes than what I am used to in the SEC. On an unrelated note, let this column substitute for the public letter I was going to write to Jerry Jones telling him that the experience at his stadium was the best ever. This is something that SEC schools could take a lesson from — there was always someone there to tell you where you should go. What a concept.

14. If you are a college football fan and you didn’t have a two-TV system going wherever you were, I feel for you. That was a glorious night for college football and goes back to what I wrote last year that college football should have games every Sunday. I know that TV dictates when games are played but it seems as if college football doesn’t even try sometimes because of the NFL shadow. Take a peek at the Thursday games this year and you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, I knew that there would be a lot of overreaction after the first weekend, but I’m not sure that putting Josh Rosen at the top of the Heisman Trophy race or Kevin Sumlin at the top of the hot seat race are overreactions. A member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents has already called for Sumlin’s departure. This will not be a popular opinion among some of my colleagues, but I have always felt that John Chavis, the Aggie defensive coordinator, is one of the most overrated coaches in the country. He has been handed elite athletes to work with for more than two decades and engineered some amazing defensive collapses.

15. Let’s see, do I need to take anyone else down? Let’s be positive in this segment. We could talk about a team that scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the first quarter in its opening game and had a true freshman kick a 56-yard field goal. That would be your Northern Colorado Bears, who come to The Swamp on Saturday. The Bears handed College of Idaho (bonus points if you know that the College of Idaho’s nickname is the Coyotes) a 41-14 defeat to open the season. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd shows up in Gainesville. It’s a 7:30 game, which most fans prefer, and it is the home opener, after all. There are also three or four amazing games on at the same time. And this is not a happy fan base. We’ll see.

16. I know it’s the first big weekend of the season, but we can’t just talk college football, can we? Well, yes, we can. I will submit my second Associated Press ballot today and I gave it a lot of thought before bouncing the Gators out of my rankings. I just think there are 25 teams that deserve to be in there right now. My top five — 1. Alabama (up from No. 4); 2. Ohio State; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Penn State; 5. Auburn, I dropped South Florida four spots to No. 21 and FSU six spots to No. 9. The games this week will create some real chaos.

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to a Gator fan named Patrick Simpson, who is a personal trainer in Nashville and sent this gem out — “What if I told you a laptop and a drug test could change a school’s fortune forever. ESPN 30 for 30 presents: Transferred.” So imagine a world where neither Cam Newton nor Grier got in trouble at Florida. And then go have a drink because you’ll need it. That said, I think Newton left as much because Tim Tebow announced he would return for his senior season as much as anything. Why do Florida’s transfer quarterbacks go on to become stars elsewhere and Alabama’s can’t even win starting jobs at the schools they go to? Asking for a friend.

18. One great thing about flying United Airlines is they are over the top in friendliness after what happened a while back (Google it if you don’t remember) and there is also this United app that allows you to watch movies and TV shows on your phone while being in a flying seat (Louis C.K. joke there). Couldn’t get through the Ghostbusters remake. What in the world were they trying to do with the brilliant Kate McKinnon? Ruin her career? So I watched a few episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” instead. It seemed appropriate considering what Gator fans had just been through in Texas. But I did make this playlist:

• “Over Everything” by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile.

• “Part of Me” by Good Old War.

• “Leaving” by Wildling.

• “California” by Rogue Wave.

• And for an old one, well, we lost another great musician over the weekend when Steely Dan’s Walter Becker left us. It’s strange that there seems to be two kinds of people in the world — those who think Steely Dan was one of the better groups we’ve seen and those who thought the band was terrible. I’m one of the former and my favorite might be “My Old School.” Enjoy.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

 

26 COMMENTS

  1. ”…if we were allowed to watch practices we could have told you something more realistic rather than being force-fed sugarless Kool-Aid.” Yea Pat, and back in August all this would have started then. That’s why they don’t let y’all watch, in part. Really doesn’t change anything. I was young enough (back then) to ride a bike to Gator games in 80’s. And I saw a great Gator team beat the EVENTUAL NATIONAL CHAMPS, the Hurricanes (after I snuck into the North end zone). It can be done, winning, not sneaking into the North end zone. Coach Charley (”Give ’em hell Pell”) showed us ”wait ’till next year” Gators how it’s done (beating nationally ranked teams in the opener), without winning the SEC (like Mac likes to do). Now it’s the Mac ‘Nuss train’s turn!

  2. Saturday morning Coach Mac was NOT on the hot seat. Saturday night Coach Mac WAS on the hot seat. And will remain there until maybe the Gators beat Dawg Scum. Can we all admit we were fooled/lied to about the offensive line being so much better this year? I have no idea if any of these guys can play quarterback. I still have no idea if Jeff Driskel could play qb. That’s how long our O-line has stunk. Everybody hates Nick Saban. But everybody wants to win like Bama. You want to win like Bama? Have your team block and tackle like them. Go Gators.

    • Mark Hoffman. Or recruit almost nothing but 5-star recruits and put those 5-star recruits three deep at every position on your roster. Only Alabama with its large money donations by its boosters can do that with Saban’s help. And only Alabama’s players come into that program looking like kids and within a year look like man monsters. Just saying.

      • Agreed Rick. Bama successfully recruits more 5 star guys than the Gators (or pretty much anyone else). But they also develop them. And they coach/scheme to help their players be successful. How is it we have top notch receiver talent in this State – and the Gators get their share – and we still can’t scheme our guys open once or twice a game? That great pass on the 1st drive was a perfect throw to a guy that was basically/mostly covered. He was “open enough” to drop a dime on him and he got his hands up. That’s not very open. That’s NFL “open”. Meanwhile, even whiner, directional school, Homecoming fodder manage to get their guys open (even against the vaunted Gator DBs). Seems like everybody can do it but the Gators. Coaching matters as much as recruiting talent. The Gators need to get better at both.

  3. I think it’s been the last five for six years in a row that we’ve been told “the offensive line this year will be a team strength”. Just to clarify that point. I’m getting tired of hearing it. Can someone who has time to do it please dig up these articles from the last 5 or 6 years on internet archive? I’m curious as to whether these sports writers are writing anything new or if they just copy last years pre-season (ungrounded) speculation about the offensive line being better… Certainly feels like deja vu all over again…

  4. Mac “We need to make sure that the guys that need to touch it, touch it. Those things need getting called.” Orlando Sentinel: McElwain said players involved in the original game plan did not get the football. Huh? You make a game plan and then don’t execute said game plan?! I’m convinced now that if these two offensive masterminds could coach up Bama the way they did, so could my wife. When you’ve got the best players in the country year after year like they do I don’t think it matters who calls the plays. How else do you explain their success there and dismal execution here. But for Mac to come out and say we didn’t execute the game plan we had in place is inexcusable. Absolute head scratcher. In fact, Bubba, the secretary of game day ribs and tater salad here at the Narcoossee Gator Club has submitted his resume for new OC to the AD and is awaiting reply. Gator Nation should be so lucky.

  5. What is it exactly that Grier did that was so great? So he threw for 371 yards, big deal. When you throw the ball 53 times and have plenty of time to throw with good protection from the OL, I’d hope you can get over 300 yards. He did what every QB does in the WVU system. Skylar Howard threw for 300 yards or almost that many in pretty much every game last year. That offense is designed to allow for a lot of yards. You do realize WVU lost that game right? Grier had the ball with almost 2 mins left in the game and down by 7 and after getting to VT’s 15 yard line he threw 3 straight incompletions to end the game. I saw a few great deep throws, but I saw far more overthrows and missed wide open receivers. I mean hell Franks looked great on the few times they allowed him to throw deep, so I didn’t see much of a difference in that aspect. The biggest difference was WVU allowed Grier to air it out whenever he wanted whereas Mac put the handcuffs on Franks. Fact of the matter is Grier racked up a lot of yards but didn’t capitalize when it mattered the most and lost, so all those yards meant nothing. Congrats to Grier for racking up yards, but I’m pretty sure Franks would’ve too if he played for WVU. That’s the difference between a potent offensive plan with a good offensive line and an amateur vanilla offense the Gators run behind a joke of an offensive line.

    • Joe. On one of those three throws, Grier scrambled to avoid the rush and then threw a great pass between three Va. Tech defenders to one of his receivers for an apparent TD. The receiver dropped the ball. On one of the other plays he had to scramble and throw the ball away to avoid a sack or an INT. Smart decision. The third pass was a desperate final long pass into the end zone with Tech defenders all over the place. Little chance of completing a pass there. Grier also ran for 50 yards, several scrambles that got his team key first downs when needed. Grier played an outstanding game, showed leadership skills, and poise on the field. Letting Grier go was a huge mistake by McElwain. He is an outstanding college QB who is playing in a system that will take full advantage of his skills. Not sure that would have been the case if he had remained in Gainesville, so it was best for Grier to move on, I guess.

  6. I am just dumbfounded by Mac and his blind belief in Nuss. There was a reason Saban let him go and he was so easily available when Mac got him. There’s zero creativity in the offense, no trick plays, great OCs can do things to slow great pass rushes but we have a below average OC that we pay over $750K a year. I bet we’d all like a job where we don’t have to get results or live up to the expectations we were hired for and make that much coin and get a raise as well. I’ve not been on the fire Mac bandwagon but if he can’t see just how bad Nuss is, he’s not fit to run this program. Hell, the great Nick Saban replaced and OC a week before the NC game and yeah that may not have been the greatest decision Nick’s made but it wasn’t his offense that lost the NC game…I’ll take 41 points every week.

  7. I still say that the offensive lineman are good enough players who unfortunately play in an outmoded offensive scheme that is easily defended by opposing defenses (just play 7,8 and 9 man fronts, with all 11 players within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage, and blitz often) and happens to be directed by a highly predictable offensive coordinator who lacks faith in his players and does not exhibit the coaching skills necessary to make proper in-game adjustments to counter what opposing teams are doing against his offense. His players then therefore lose confidence in play calls, lose faith in the system, become highly frustrated by repeated failure, lose play to play focus, and then fail to consistently communicate and execute during games due to all of that and consistent poor in-game coaching. I fully believe Florida has high-octane capable players on its roster. Unfortunately, they play in an offense that tries to run its machine with sugar (McElwain) and water (Nussmeier).

  8. Through manipulation of the time-space continuum, the UF physics department was able to download a partial transcript from Mac’s post-game comments on Nov 25, 2017, following a loss to FSU by 24-5.

    Mac: “Whew, late night, huh? Okay , everybody settled in? Yeah, good. Well, y’know, some general comments before we get into questions…tonight really was a big night, y’know, I think you all got that, and I know our team got it. Gotta hand it to FSU, y’know, hats off to Coach Fisher and his staff, that’s a heckuva team, and they put a really good game plan together, y’know, gotta hand it too ’em.

    Defense, really proud of the effort our guys put out on that side of the ball, very proud of the way they have hung together this season. Y’know, its remarkable, this is a group that could’ve, y’know, really fallen apart after starting off 5-6, and its just darn impressive that they were able to hang tough I mean, y’know, its really cool to get a safety on a backup quarterback after being on the field for, what was it, 40, 43 minutes? , yeah, we’ll have to check that stat…Yeah, maybe gave up a couple of runs up the middle, but we kept them inside of the ends, and I think only allowed, what 10 third down conversions? Y’know, pretty darned impressive for so many new guys, especially when you knew the slant plays were going to come at us, so y’know, yeah we wanted to blitz more, but FSU just didn’t give us the opportunity… I mean heck, its rare to see a team score that many points with what, less than 100 yards passing? Gotta give ’em credit>

    Offense, I gotta tell you, y’know, I said at Media Days that I think what you do, you build around anybody’s strengths, whoever it is, and y’know, we’ve done a darned good job doing that, especially considering that we’ve had two quarterbacks knocked out for the season.“We had a pretty good plan, I felt. We put some dents in them. I would have liked to have pounded that one in there (from the goal line). I realized maybe take the field goal, get it to a two-score game, but at that point I felt momentum wise we could bang one of those in there. I really believe in this offense, and along with Coach Nussmeir, we are darned excited about the progress we’re making. Obviously we wanted to run the ball more than we did, and FSU just threw some looks at us that we weren’t anticipating…Picking up -20 years rushing is obviously not in line with our expectations here at the University of Florida, and I can tell you we’re taking a long hard look at it, and are going to get it fixed. No on’e job is safe, I can promise you that, but I’m really darned proud of the effort and dedication these guys showed out there today. Converting that 3-and-8 with the tipped pass, I mean heck, Del Rio was running for his life, and he got it off, didn’t he? That guy’s a heckuva competitor, I tell ya…I guess if there is a bright side to missing the bowl game, its that he and some other guys will get a chance to heal so we can start getting ready for spring ball, which I can tell you, we are really excited about. I think you are all gonna be, y’know, really impressed and excited to see the package we are getting ready for the Orange & Blue game, I mean, I don’t want to give anything away, but we’re gone turn some folks’ head, i can promise you that.
    Special teams…yeah, really tough tonight. Great to block that one punt, I mean obviously we should have managed some points out of getting the ball on the FSU 10-yd line, but heck, you can’t hang a fumble on our punt return team, now can you? And our punter was solid, I mean man, on it, y’know, and i, mean, heck, I’ll bet we’ve got as good a punter as anywhere in the nation…
    Overall, really proud of those seniors that chose to come back. I thought what they did today was fantastic and it speaks a lot that they, y’know, were willing to lay it all out there for this team and this family.

    So to sum, y’know, gotta give a lot of respect to FSU…and you know, by golly, it says a lot about this team that we would be willing to open up with Michigan, run through a darn tough conference schedule, and close with FSU, which I tell ya, is as tough a non-conference game as you could want…really proud of these guys for hanging together through a tough season. WE’ve learned a lot of lessons, and I can tell you, the record isn’t what we hoped, but you can hang it on me, I mean , its on me isn’t it?” We’re getting better, we’re getting all of this fixed and I think you’re gonna really be pleased with the effort, y’know? Questions?”

  9. Pat,
    If you honestly even suspect that Del Rio may be the QB answer then you really DON’T GET IT!!! And, you should follow Mac and Nuss wherever they go. Oh, and don’t forget to take your little Lukey Boy with you.

  10. Stop blaming Mac for the past 8 years. He has had two years and won two SEC East championships. The losers that whine on these forums do not represent the majority of the fans who appreciate all of the efforts of the Gator athletes. BTW, it wasn’t that long ago that these same dimwits were complaining that Sully couldn’t coach baseball.

  11. Any pro type offense in college ball will only work with the right players (see Bama). The OL and DL must be brutes, the QB must both run and pass well and be smart, the LBs’ and DBs’ must be quick and tough, oh and yes. the coach must be very very good. Pretty simple, huh?