Florida Gators midseason report: Jim McElwain is MVP of offense
With the Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) in the middle of their bye week, it’s a good time to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked through seven games.
We’ll start our midseason report with a look at Florida’s offense. Here’s our take on the unit …
MVP: Jim McElwain. I know this is supposed to be the acronym for “Most Valuable PLAYER,” but McElwain has played such a big role in the turnaround of the offense that he deserves this title. After the unit ranked 104th nationally in passing offense (179.9 yards per game) and 93rd nationally in total offense (367.6 total yards per game) last year, the Gators rank 49th nationally in passing offense (249.6) and 86th nationally in total offense (376.3) this season with almost the same exact personnel.
A key to the unit’s improvement has been its clean and efficient play. After the group finished last season with 24 turnovers, the Gators are tied for seventh nationally with five turnovers lost through seven games this season. On this pace, Florida will end the regular season with just eight turnovers lost. One of McElwain’s most used sayings when it comes to quarterbacks is “a guy who can throw it to the right color jersey.” It seems like quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris understand that concept now.
Biggest surprise: Antonio Callaway. The kid can play. The freshman wide receiver is fourth on the team with 16 catches and is second on the team with 308 receiving yards this season. The Miami-Dade County product is also helping lift Florida’s special teams. Callaway ranks 12th nationally, averaging 14.8 yards per punt return with one 72-yard return for a touchdown included in there.
On top of that, Callaway is already responsible for one the most memorable plays in program history. He used his speed to turn an 18-yard catch into a 63-yard game-winning touchdown in the final minutes of Florida’s dramatic 28-27 comeback victory over Tennessee on Sept. 26. Callaway has a heck of a college career ahead of him.
Biggest disappointment: The running backs. We knew Florida didn’t have the best group of running backs in the country entering the season, but the position was expected to be consistent and reliable. At times, the Gators’ running backs have been that. But that hasn’t been the case too often this season. The Gators rank 110th nationally with 126.7 rushing yards per game. It starts with former Glades Day star Kelvin Taylor, who has used a team-high 129 carries to run for 463 yards and eight touchdowns. Taylor is averaging 3.6 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the SEC. Freshman backs Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett back up Taylor and have combined for 175 rushing yards on 41 carries, while showing flashes of promise this season.
The trio, along with a struggling offensive line, just hasn’t been productive enough, though. The rushing game has been especially bad in conference play, averaging 2.9 rushing yards per carry in five SEC games this season.
Looking ahead: It’s quarterback Treon Harris’ offense now. Harris will have to carry the load with Will Grier serving a year-long suspension. Harris is more than capable of continuing what Grier started, but Florida’s plan will likely have to change a bit. Expect less timing plays in the passing game and more calls that get Harris out of the pocket with the option to improvise if the play breaks down. But for Florida’s offense to live up to its full potential, the running game will have to get going. If the Gators continue to average less than three yards per carry in conference play, another conference loss could be on the way.
Note: On Friday, we will take a look at Florida’s defense and special teams.