NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida coach Jim McElwain loves his players, but he knows they’re ugly.
And sadly, he had to claim them Saturday.
“A wise man once told me, no matter what, you even got to bring them ugly babies home from the hospital,” McElwain said after the 13-6 win over Vanderbilt. “And that was ugly.”
Those “ugly babies” share something similar with McElwain’s son, Jerrett. It must run in the family, because coach Mac has the same issue.
“My son and I, we sit on the couch and look at each other knowing that there was something laying on the floor and we’d out-wait ourselves,” McElwain said. “We’d sit there and see who could out-wait each other to go pick it up.”
For the second week in a row, the Gators had to pick themselves up off the floor after getting hit with a team’s best shot. They won the fight this time, but those knockdowns didn’t look good.
The Commodores were throwing hay-makers, while Florida countered with soft jabs. Against a better boxer, UF would have lost.
“Some teams, when they’re playing the Florida Gators, they’re amped up and ready to come out and beat us,” running back Jordan Scarlett said. “Sometimes, (the) Gators just come out a little lazy, like we’re supposed to win.”
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This has been a common theme with the Gators. They play to their opponent’s level or simply just don’t show up.
Despite coming off a deflating loss to Tennessee, they were not motivated for a Vanderbilt game at noon in front of a weak crowd.
“I don’t want to say it’s a different mindset, but it is,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “Look at the teams we play. I feel like we threw the first punch last week against Tennessee. We threw the first punch against Kentucky.
“I don’t want say Vandy got to us, but … UMass, North Texas and Vandy is like uhh. Kentucky and Tennessee is like (slaps hands).”
McElwain wants to see his players slapping hands all the time, showing the aggressiveness and energy of Muhammad Ali dancing in the ring. Instead, they don’t start fighting until they’ve taken some blows.
“It drives me nuts,” McElwain said. “I mean, let’s go, right? This is what you do this for. Guys, we’re running out of opportunities. We only have so many opportunities. Don’t wait. Go do it yourself. Take the initiative. Jump out there. Be somebody. It’s not that hard.”
This Florida team has several issues and just playing with intensity and urgency isn’t going to mask them. But the Gators don’t have enough talent to offset a flat performance, even against an opponent like Vanderbilt.
“(McElwain) wanted us to come back out there in the second half and just punch them in the mouth,” Scarlett said. “Not literally, but just going out there and giving it to them.”
UF better take the fight to LSU next Saturday. The Tigers have a swarming defense and will pound it with bruising running backs Leonard Fournette and Derrious Guice — who had three first-half rushing touchdowns against Missouri.
If the Gators wait for them to throw the first punch, they’ll get knocked out.
“They were built to road grade you and we’ve been road graded the last couple weeks, plain and simple,” McElwain said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us this week and we’ve got to learn to play physical and play with pad level because we just got pushed around.
“You have to hold yourself to a higher standard in everything that you do. We have some guys that do and some guys that kind of wait for somebody else. You don’t need to wait for somebody else. Do it yourself.”
LSU has won three straight over Florida, and defensive tackle Caleb Brantley believes his team will play with a chip on its shoulder and revenge on its mind.
“We’re on another level when we’re mad and (ticked) off,” Brantley said. “We can’t be touched.”