Gators notebook: Elam not available for Kentucky game

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Kentucky fans flood the field after their team won an NCAA college football game against Florida in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Florida coach Dan Mullen repeatedly described sidelined junior defensive back Kaiir Elam as “probable” to return for the Gators’ road trip to Kentucky, creating optimism the starting cornerback would make his return to the field against the Wildcats. 

Although Elam ended up being one of the 70 players UF brought to Lexington, he ultimately wasn’t dressed out when the Gators took the field for pre-game warm-ups, meaning Elam would miss his second-straight contest after suffering a sprained knee in Florida’s 31-29 loss to Alabama.

In Elam’s place, Avery Helm and true freshman Jason Marshall were named Florida’s starting cornerbacks. 

Mullen explained Elam’s absence following UF’s 20-13 loss to the Wildcats, saying Elam didn’t feel he could play after minimal practice during the build-up to the road trip to Lexington. 

“No, he just, the trainers, he went — they got (him) checked out, they felt good,” Mullen said of Elam. “Then he, after trying to practice a little bit, he didn’t think he could go.”

Gators: Crowd impressive, but not source of issues

Florida wasn’t ready to dub Kroger Field a difficult venue to compete in the aftermath of the 20-13 loss to the Wildcats. 

Rather than attribute the offensive letdown to the attendance, Gators quarterback Emory Jones said “we weren’t locked in on offense at all times,” while adding he can be more vocal when it comes to registering the snap count.

“I can be a lot louder,” he said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board and try to get better with that."

Mullen also dismissed the notion the boisterous home crowd of 61,632 played a role in Florida’s miscues, notably on the offensive line, saying he’ll have to get with offensive line coach John Hevesy and discuss what went wrong. However, Mullen was still highly complimentary of the atmosphere Saturday night in Lexington. 

“We gotta get better,” Mullen said. “But, give their crowd credit. They had a great crowd, they had a lot of energy, their guys played hard. But, you can't do that, that's a lack of mental toughness."

Stats back up Mullen’s praise of offense

In his post-game comments with the media, Mullen was insistent that Florida’s offense was more successful than the final score would indicate, and one look at the statistics at the conclusion of the game seemingly backs up that assertion. 

Florida’s 382 yards of offense were the second-highest allowed by Kentucky this season. The Gators were just 16 yards shy of tying the most yards allowed this season by the Wildcats’ ninth-ranked defense, set by Missouri back on Sept. 11 in the Tigers’ 35-28 loss to UK. And Florida’s rushing attack put up 171 yards on the ground, tied for the most allowed by Kentucky this season and the most rushing yards the Gators have had against the Wildcats in Mullen’s tenure as Florida’s head coach. It’s been an impressive start on the ground for Florida. UF now has 1,461 rushing yards on the year, the team’s most through five games in the last 46 seasons. 

Career day for two UF receivers with local ties

A pair of Florida pass-catchers had standout days in defeat. Gainesville native Trent Whittemore tied his career-high in receptions, hauling in four passes for 36 yards, and Dunnellon native Ja’Quavion Fraziars recorded his first collegiate touchdown when he put UF up 7-0 in the first quarter.

Special teams not so special

Jace Christmann tied his career-long when he hit a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter to put UF in front 10-7, but it wouldn't stand as the most notable kick of the night. 

That honor belongs to UF’s field-goal attempt in the third quarter, which was blocked by Kentucky’s Josh Paschal and returned to the house 76 yards by Trevin Wallace. 

The last time Florida had given up a touchdown on a blocked field goal was when Miami’s Devin Hester returned one 78 yards in the Hurricanes’ 27-10 win in the Peach Bowl. The Gators had gone 211 games without giving up a blocked field-goal return touchdown. It also marked the first time since Florida’s loss to Alabama in the 2015 SEC Championship game that the Gators had a field-goal attempt blocked. 

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