University of Florida

UF football will play spring scrimmage in prime time

Florida head football coach Jim McElwain, center, answers questions from reporters during Florida's NFL Pro Day in Gainesville, Fla., Tues., March 22, 2016.
Florida head football coach Jim McElwain, center, answers questions from reporters during Florida's NFL Pro Day in Gainesville, Fla., Tues., March 22, 2016. AP

In an ode to his former mentor Nick Saban, no detail is too small for Florida head coach Jim McElwain.

It’s all part of the process.

After playing seven night games in 2015, the Gators will hold their annual Orange & Blue Debut under the lights for the first time school history tonight — hosting their final spring scrimmage at 7 p.m. in The Swamp.

“We usually open the season at night,” McElwain explained.

“I try to simulate as many of those things as we can, so the preparation piece is another learning experience. As you know in the fall, we try to do different practices at different times simply to prepare [our team] for different times they’re going to play during the day. So that’s part of it.”

McElwain’s new strategy is two-fold, really, as it prepares Florida for future night games next season and also allows the Gators to showcase another prime time atmosphere for recruits.

UF’s second-year coach aims to build a whole weekend out of the event, “owning” Friday night and avoiding competing with the Masters or other notable spring games (Florida State, Clemson, Auburn) on Saturday afternoon.

“Getting people here in a night atmosphere in The Swamp is fantastic and a lot of fun,” McElwain said. “Then it also allows us a good Saturday with a lot of recruits that are coming in where we can spend quality time with them, showing them the campus, all the new things we have facilities- wise. They can get a good chance to get through that without a game going on, which will be done the night before.”

Unlike last year when the Gators were handcuffed by roster limitations (just six scholarship offensive linemen), Florida hopes to hold a competitive scrimmage Friday.

Once again, all eyes will be on the offense and the four-headed battle at quarterback.

After finishing last season with the nation’s 112th ranked attack, Florida has had a solid camp in its second spring in McElwain’s system. The offensive line has gelled, several playmakers have emerged and the tailback group, led by Westminster Christian product Jordan Cronkrite, is deeper than year’s past.

But the Gators are still searching for a starting signal caller — much less find a long-term solution.

Transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby have each had their moments this spring, yet neither quarterback has grabbed the job. Meanwhile, early enrollees Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks have impressed but they haven’t done enough to warrant legitimate consideration for the No. 1 spot, either.


“We’ll get there,” McElwain said, recently lamenting the quarterbacks’ performance in a scrimmage.

Still, star cornerback Jalen Tabor says he’s seen firsthand how the offense has progressed this spring.

Tabor praised the quarterbacks’ ability to challenge the defense vertically more often, and he thought wideouts Ahmad Fulwood and ‘Dre Massey had excelled in camp.

The brash cornerback believes the offense needs to come out and send the Gator Nation a message Friday night, though.

“They’ve been [treated] like second-class citizens, kind of everybody talks about the defense and how many players we’ve got on the defense, but if they just believe that they can do it,” Tabor said. “I mean, I see it everyday in practice. They need to prove they can put up points.”

“It’s kind of big for them,” he added. “They’ve just got to believe that they can do it. We have the talent on offense. They’ve just got to believe.”