Old habits really do die hard.
Jim McElwain has talked extensively about the greatness of Florida’s “brand,” but the first-year coach spent much of Saturday night apologizing for the very brand of football the Gators have played the last six seasons.
Undisciplined. Selfish. Inconsistent.
UF survived a litany of mistakes to knock off East Carolina 31-24, and McElwain was apoplectic afterward.
He called his team embarrassing, horrible and unprepared.
Then he dropped the biggest insult of all: entitled.
“I’m going to tell you what. It started Monday when 30-plus guys didn’t have their ankles taped for the first meeting. 30-plus,” he said, his voice rising.
“Now, before I got here, there were a lot more, OK. But that’s unacceptable. You have to come prepared. That was a look into maybe what was going on this week. They were feeling good about themselves. For what? Because they took care of one opportunity? … It’s a bunch of entitlement. Entitled for what? How about investing?”
Florida was nearly flawless in its 61-13 opening-stampede over New Mexico State. The offense hummed, the defense dominated and the discipline woes that have plagued the team for years disappeared.
The good vibes lasted one week.
“We just came off a big win; felt like we did something,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “I felt like the attitude wasn’t right.”
Linebacker Jarrad Davis concurred: “It felt like we kind of reverted back. We got comfortable. We were really lazy on Monday as a team. Guys weren’t getting taped and guys were late to meetings and stuff like that. Coach McElwain pretty much whipped us on Monday. It showed in the game. We started slow. We could have come out and really lit up the scoreboard on these guys, but we started slow and they hung around with us.”
The Gators committed just a single penalty in their opener, but they were flagged 12 times for 105 yards Saturday — the most since the 2012 opener against Bowling Green (14 flags for 106 yards).
Florida was flagged for false starts, illegal procedure, holding, delay of game and roughing the punter, but its worst offenses were:
▪ An offensive pass interference penalty against tight end Jake McGee, nullifying a 5-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson.
▪ An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Joey Ivie, who took off his helmet after a UF touchdown.
▪ An excessive celebration penalty by tailback Kelvin Taylor for a throat-slash gesture, setting up ECU with prime field position for a quick-strike score.
Taylor’s act left McElwain livid, as cameras caught Florida’s coach going berserk on the sidelines for the now-viral rant.
“You’ve got to teach them,” McElwain said. “It’s not OK. It’s not OK to act that way. It’s not OK to call attention to yourself when the selfish act hurts the whole team. It’s not OK.”
The Gators ranked last in the SEC in penalties in three of the last four years, but the team’s discipline problem existed long before Will Muschamp ever coached in Gainesville.
UF’s 2008 national champion squad finished next-to-last in the SEC in penalties.
“It starts with understanding that selfish acts hurt the team and it will be dealt with and that’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore,” McElwain said. “It’s not going to happen. We’ve got to learn. …It’s not the brand or style of ball that we’re gonna play.”
If only discipline was Florida’s sole problem. The Gators’ offensive line remains too inconsistent, their linebacker depth too thin and they still haven’t settled on a quarterback heading into conference play.
UF travels to Kentucky (2-0) this weekend with a lot to clean up.
“We’ll correct the mistakes. Bury [the ECU game], tear out the rear view mirror and get ready to go play a very good Kentucky team on the road that arguably beat us a year ago here,” McElwain said.
“[They’re] going to have a lot of confidence. New stadium, new facilities, a lot of energy. I’m sure right now they’re going to look at this and say, ‘You know what? We can beat these guys.’ ”