A new era in Gator football begins Saturday as Jim McElwain will take the field for the first time as the Florida head coach in the season opener against New Mexico State. With a 37-26 record over the past five seasons, McElwain has made it his focus to rebuild Florida’s offense from the inside out and bring hope back to the Florida fan base.
Offensively, Florida will start Treon Harris at quarterback, with Will Grier expected to take plenty of snaps too. The Gators will be without defensive lineman Alex McCalister, safety Marcus Maye, and receiver Latroy Pittman due to suspension. Safety Keanu Neal and offensive lineman Martez Ivey are not expected to play due to injury.
New Mexico State finished only 2-10 last season, but brings a few strong pieces that could give the Gators a run for their money. Quarterback Tyler Rodgers threw for 2,779 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Running back Larry Rose III was 25th in the nation last year with 1,102 yards on the ground while rushing for nine touchdowns.
McElwain says he is impressed by the play makers on the Aggies.
“The quarterback obviously does a good job getting the ball out of his hand quickly and getting it into play maker’s hands. They had a true freshman running back that had 1,100 yards rushing and a wide receiver that was all league for them as well,” McElwain said.
The Aggies also return a veteran offensive line that UF defensive coordinator Geoff Collins says shows promise.
“They have four offensive linemen who are returning starters and what’s impressive about them is they only gave up nine sacks in an entire season. That’s a testament to their scheme and their quarterback, who makes quick decisions,” Collins said.
Defensively, New Mexico State was the worst in the country in rush defense and sacks. They allowed 308.75 yards per game on the ground and had just five sacks in 12 games.
McElwain says their experience will be their strong suit.
“The fact that they have the experience coming back is important because they won’t be intimidated. They came in and played LSU last year, so it is not something that is big to them because they have seen it.”
Collins says in order for the Gators to be successful they’ve got to do all the little things right.
“When you get them into a third down situation, you’ve got to excel. When it’s in the red zone, you’ve got to excel. All of those situations, two minutes before and after the half, you’ve got to excel,” Collins said.
Live coverage of the game can be heard on ESPN Gainesville 95.3 beginning at 3:30, with kick off set for 7:30 pm.
To hear audio from Jim McElwain and Geoff Collins click below: