GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain has a high expectation level for his offense, one the Gators didn’t come close to reaching in 2015.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier isn’t sugar coating it, either.
“We struggled a lot,” he said Wednesday. “When you look at it, let’s be honest about it.”
Statistically, UF had the third-worst offensive unit in the SEC last year and ranked 111th nationally in total offense. Despite those struggles, there’s a strong sense of offensive optimism coming from Florida coaches and players.
“At times, you saw five true freshmen and you saw guys competing, maybe in situations that weren’t ideal,” Nussmeier said. “They never backed down. They fought, they competed and that’s how you develop a championship-caliber team.”
As bad as things got for the Gators near the end of the season, there were positives to build on.
A young offensive line received valuable playing time. Kelvin Taylor eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. Antonio Callaway set multiple school records.
Florida now has more weapons at wideout and a revamped quarterback group with pro-style passers suited for Nussmeier’s system. Despite losing Taylor, McElwain called running back the No. 1 team strength.
“We’ve got some really quality guys there that will compete, and I’m looking forward to see how that competition kind of comes out,” McElwain said of the backs. “I think the experience we developed up front is going to be very helpful.
“And yet, the parts around it, it’ll be interesting to see which one of these receivers kind of grows up early, and there’s a lot of talent to choose from. But I see it drastically much better in operations and getting it to the open guys.”
Florida’s offensive personnel appears to be better across the board, but unknowns still remain and the influx of new players have to prove themselves on Saturdays. For the Gators to be more productive, McElwain and Nussmeier pointed to several areas that need improvement.
“We want to be a situationally good offense,” Nussmeier said. “You look at things that really hurt us last year: Lost-yardage plays. Obviously the sacks are an alarming stat that stands out to you now.
“We have to become a better red-zone team. Obviously we had challenges there. Got to become a better third-down team. Those special situations are the areas we’ve really got to grow in as a group.”
Said McElwain: “I look at it as efficiency in staying on the field. Obviously being successful keeping your defense off the field by prolonging series. … The three-and-outs just kill you. And ultimately, the production of points, when you’re down inside that score area, is something that to me kind of defines it.”
UF ranked 124th in red-zone offense last season, but cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor believes the issue has been fixed.
“We were down there a lot (inside the 20), we just couldn’t get three,” Tabor said. “So it’s not just the offense … we just didn’t finish the drive. If we can get three in a lot of those games, it’s a different ballgame.
“We’ve got a kicker now (Eddy Pineiro). That’s going to be looked at as offense. When they get three, they’re going to say the offense is doing better, but really it’s just the kicking game.”
Regardless of how the Gators score points, Nussmeier is confident it will happen more often in 2016.
“Whatever you have to do on offense to win, that’s what you want to be,” Nussmeier said. “Obviously you want to score as many points and you want to have the statistical numbers and all that. But at the end of the day, sometimes you’ve got to play to the strength of your team.
“This group has worked extremely hard. To see the growth they have made over the last year, I’m really, really excited about where they are as we go into camp.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.