The Florida Gators felt good.
They opened the Jim McElwain era with a 61-13 win over New Mexico State and they reveled in the win over the weekend. The celebration just lasted too long and seeped into their narrow 31-24 victory over visiting East Carolina.
“In prior years we would get a win and we would get really excited, we would get comfortable,” junior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “When you get comfortable you don’t really feel the need to really continue to work and progress.”
Jim McElwain noticed that something was off with his team. He had lauded them throughout the offseason for working hard on and off the field. He had made sure to publically call out guys who were doing things the right way. The first game came and the most penalized team in the SEC over the last 10, 20 years committed just one penalty. McElwain said it was a testament to guys doing the right thing on and off the field, no penalties was just a product of that.
In the second game of the McElwain era, the Gators were penalized 12 times for more than 100 yards. McElwain was livid on the sidelines, in the locker room and even in his post game press conference. After Kelvin Taylor’s touchdown in the fourth quarter, the junior running back was penalized 15 yards for making a throat slashing sign. The unsportsmanlike penalty forced Austin Hardin to kickoff 15-yards deeper than normal and gave ECU great field position to start a drive that would lead to a touchdown.
“That’s not how it’s going to be any more,” McElwain said. “It’s not going to happen. We’ve got to learn. It was embarrassing. It was embarrassing to our administration, our university. It almost came back to bite us in the end.”
In just one week it seemed like the Florida Gators had completely forgotten what McElwain had spent the past seven months instilling in them. The disciplined, under control, clean football team from a week ago was gone. Replacing them was a team that looked oddly familiar to the one of the previous four years.
“That was embarrassing. We didn’t deserve to win the ball game,” McElwain said about the win. “I thought Ruff [McNeil] and his ball team came in here and took it to us. I thought we played with a lack of discipline and a lack of understanding on how to play the game. It was embarrassing.”
The Pirates took this game down to the wire. It wasn’t until a fumble with mere second left on the clock, ECU inside Florida’s 15-yard line — that was recovered by Alex McCalister that fans could breath a sigh of relief. The only thing McElwain was breathing was fire.
Florida will travel to Kentucky to open up SEC play a week from Saturday and if the team that showed up against ECU travels to Lexington then the Florida Gators will start conference pay with a loss.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” McElwain said. “It starts with understanding that selfish acts hurt the team. It will be dealt with and it’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore.”