GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain has a new solution to his three-year-old problem: Pick up the pace.
The unranked Gators want to play with a faster tempo when they host Texas A&M on Saturday night. McElwain’s offense averages 60.8 plays a game, which ranks next-to-last in the Southeastern Conference and 124th out of 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
It’s hardly a surprise given that Florida (3-2, 3-1 SEC) is playing a redshirt freshman quarterback behind a mediocre offensive line, has two of its top playmakers suspended indefinitely and could be without big-play receiver Tyrie Cleveland (ankle) for the second consecutive game. Plus, quarterback Feleipe Franks has been benched twice and demoted once while failing to make the correct pre-snap adjustments, locking onto primary receivers and mostly ignoring the middle of the field.
Throw in the fact that the Gators are last in the league in third-down conversations, picking up a paltry 34.8 percent on the all-important downs, and it’s no wonder they can’t seem to stay on the field.
In hopes of improving his team’s efficiency, McElwain wants more opportunities beginning against the Aggies (4-2, 2-1).
“The expectation, I would say at this point, is to play at a faster pace,” McElwain said Monday. “Not every play is going to be perfect, but we need to be perfect on those `got-to have-it downs.’ … I expect to get better, and yet we need to continue to grow with those guys and we need to have a plan to put them in position to (avoid) some of the one-on-ones we get beat on up front.
“We have to have better help with chips and those things to have an opportunity to push the ball downfield. Just need to continue to build on those and get better out of it.”
Florida’s snail-like pace was evident late in the team’s 17-16 loss to LSU last Saturday.
Trailing by a point and getting the ball back with 4:01 remaining, Franks and the Gators managed six plays and 21 yards in 2 minutes, 22 seconds. McElwain criticized the team’s lack of urgency afterward, and running back Lamical Perine said the issue was getting plays relayed in a timely manner from coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
“We got to run more plays,” receiver Freddie Swain said.
Added guard Tyler Jordan: “The first thing we have to do is push the pace. After the play is over, we have to run to the ball. I think that was one thing that was somewhat lacking at the end of the game.”
At least one former player saw a bigger problem.
Former Florida defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., now a rookie with the Carolina Panthers, vented his frustration on Twitter after the loss.
“Time is running out on Floridas predictable high school offense….trash,” Cox wrote.
McElwain brushed aside Cox’s comments, but shouldered blame for the team’s tempo and any frustration in the locker room.
“I’m sure they are,” McElwain said. “They want to win as bad as anybody. Ultimately, it’s about winning and we didn’t win this last game.”
The Gators probably should feel fortunate to only have two losses. After all, they needed a 63-yard touchdown pass on the final play to avoid overtime and beat Tennessee 26-20 last month and escaped 28-27 at Kentucky the following week after the Wildcats failed twice to cover receivers.
“Everybody’s frustrated, but we’re a tight-knit group and we’re going to come in and work hard,” Jordan said. “You can’t look back. I mean it’s over, it’s in the past.”
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