McElwain makes history, fails to improve Florida's offense
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's Jim McElwain made Southeastern Conference history by becoming the first coach to reach the league's championship game in his first two seasons.
He's 13-3 in SEC play, has swept rival Georgia and pushed the Gators to start making strides to improve their football facilities.
It is hardly enough, at least not in Gainesville.
As the 15th-ranked Gators (8-3) head to Atlanta to face top-ranked Alabama (12-0) for the second straight year, McElwain is getting more criticism than acclaim. Florida looked overmatched in a 31-13 loss at Florida State last Saturday, failing to score an offensive touchdown for the second time in as many years in the series. And McElwain, hired to fix Florida's floundering offense, has come up well short and offered nothing more than a glimpse of anything resembling Steve Spurrier's ''Fun `n' Gun'' that dominated the league throughout most of the 1990s.
The Gators currently rank 114th in the nation in total offense, down two spots from 2015 while averaging a meager 352.7 yards a game. And they easily could drop after facing the Tide's top-ranked defense Saturday.
''I don't look at it as a mismatch at all,'' McElwain said Monday. ''I look at it as a great opportunity, and you know that's part of the chess match. ... I know this: We're playing in this game and we're going to give ourselves every opportunity to be successful.''
Florida was somewhat competitive in last year's title game.
The Gators returned a punt for a touchdown early and trailed 12-7 at halftime before Alabama pulled away and won 29-15 . Florida finished with 180 yards, the fewest of McElwain's tenure. Quarterback Treon Harris got the brunt of the blame for that stinker as well as Florida's late-season slide.
There haven't been nearly as many excuses this year.
McElwain started two transfer quarterbacks (Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby) over two freshmen he recruited (Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask). It seemed justifiable before the season, but looked highly questionable once it became clear Del Rio and Appleby have flaws.
The Gators have thrown for fewer than 150 yards in four of their last seven games, and haven't topped 230 yards passing in more than two months.
''I think we've done it throughout the season in glimpses and spurts,'' Appleby said. ''The key for us is going to be to the consistency. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We can't have negative plays. We've got to stay on schedule and keep working. ... We know we can do it.
''Now it's just about doing it time and time again, and that's that mental endurance thing. That's playing for each other, trusting in the plan, not making stuff up, and just executing the plan.''
Consistency hasn't been Florida's offensive forte under McElwain. Consider this: The Gators have been held below 275 yards of offense in 10 of their last 17 games. And it's not like they're playing some of the nation's top defense every week. In fact, eight of Florida's 11 opponents have defenses that rank 63rd or worse.
So it would surprise no one to see McElwain make wholesale offensive changes after the bowl game, including firing coordinator Doug Nussmeier, line coach Mike Summers and maybe others.
In the meantime, the Gators can celebrate another SEC East title, with no mention that it's widely considered the worst division in the Power Five conferences. The East is 11-33 against the West over the last three years.
Florida has merely managed to be better than the rest in a watered-down division, good enough to put McElwain in the record books but not enough to silence detractors who question whether a guy who once said he could win with his dog at quarterback has made Florida any better offensively after 25 games.
''It's obviously one of those things that you have to constantly evaluate and get better at,'' McElwain said. ''I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK.''
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