Following Florida’s win at South Carolina last weekend, first-year coach Jim McElwain took a page right out of the Lou Holtz motivational playbook.
With the spiraling Florida Atlantic Owls coming to town, McElwain told ESPN postgame, “We’ve got a team coming in that’s full of a bunch of Florida guys who wish they were Gators.”
McElwain was simply invoking his latest ploy to make sure his team is energized, engaged and focused Saturday (noon, SEC Network).
It would be easy for UF (9-1) to peek past Florida Atlantic (2-8), especially with dates looming against No. 14 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship.
FAU is a 31-point underdog, has lost five of six and is 1-28 all-time against Power Five schools, but throughout the week, McElwain consistently accentuated the Owls’ strengths: South Florida speed and a team looking to make a statement.
“There’s a ton to prove for these guys,” McElwain said of FAU, also noting that 53 players on the two rosters were once high school teammates.
“We know how hard these guys will play, and they’ve got some weapons.”
“All of those guys would love to be in our shoes, so they’re going to come out and give us their best shot,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said.
Added corner Quincy Wilson, a University School standout: “They’ve got talent. Those guys would love to be Gators, and they’re going to play their hardest.”
Aside from a little lull Wednesday, McElwain was pleased with Florida’s practices and enthusiasm this week.
There’s been little if any chatter about the Seminoles, Atlanta or a potential spot in the College Football Playoffs.
While the Owls average just 22.6 points a game and rank No. 92 in total defense, McElwain challenged his defense to stop FAU’s quarterback runs and gadget plays.
Senior signal caller Jaquez Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound duel-threat quarterback, has 1,512 career-rushing yards.
“Obviously they’ve studied that Tennessee film, and this guy is saying, ‘You know [I] can probably run for as many yards as [I] want,’ ” McElwain said.
The Gators’ defense ranks in the Top 10 nationally in six categories, but McElwain said their ability to limit quarterback runs (Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs rumbled for 136 yards) and sniff-out trick plays has been their only real Achilles heel all season.
Florida has allowed just 17 touchdowns in 2015 — four on trick plays: two double-passes back to the quarterback (Tennessee and South Carolina), a flea flicker and a fake field goal against LSU.
“These guys do a ton of them and they do them well,” McElwain said. “This will be an interesting week because we still have so much work to do about who we are and the standard in which we choose to perform with. I think a couple years ago, it was ooh-la-la [Louisiana Lafayette] came in here and we had to block a punt or something to seal the victory or get the victory, right? Well that should prove something to everybody.”
Holtz couldn’t have said it any better.
Saturday: FAU at No. 8 Florida
Kickoff: Noon; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville.
TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 31.
Records: Florida 9-1 (7-1 SEC); FAU 2-8 (2-5 C-USA).
Series: Florida leads 2-0.
Florida injuries: Questionable — OL David Sharpe (foot); LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder); DL Jonathan Bullard (arm); DL Khairi Clark (undisclosed); DL Thomas Holley (undisclosed). Out — DL Joey Ivie (undisclosed); WR C.J. Worton (undisclosed); DB Chris Williamson (back); WR Raphael Andrades (undisclosed); OL Andrew McCalister (foot); DL Andrew Ivie (undisclosed); OL Jordan Sherit (hamstring); K Jorge Powell (knee).
FAU injuries: Questionable — LB Jake Stewart (concussion); RB Jay Warren (hip); LB Khantrell Burden (concussion); DB Marquese Dudley-Gordon (concussion); RB Trey Rodriguez (shoulder); OT Byers Hickmon (concussion); LB Nate Ozdemir (hip). Out — LB Robert Relf (shoulder); WR Derek Moise (knee).