UF dealing with injuries ahead of crucial game for McElwain

UF third-year head coach Jim McElwain owns a 22-10 record at the school, the same ledger Will Muschamp had in his first 32 games with the Gators.

Published on Monday, 10/9/17, at 2:55 p.m. Eastern.
Updated on Thursday, 10/12/17, at 1:49 p.m. Eastern.

UPDATE: UF’s Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney have been downgraded to ‘doubtful’ after missing three straight practices Monday-Wednesday. 

Despite dropping a 17-16 decision at home to LSU this past Saturday, Florida still controls its own destiny to win the SEC East for a third consecutive season. However, injuries are starting to take a toll on this UF team that’s already down nine suspended players and last year’s leading tackler, Marcell Harris, who tore his Achilles in August.

The absence of sophomore WR Tyrie Cleveland, who sustained a high-ankle sprain in a 38-24 victory over Vanderbilt on Sept. 30, was evident vs. LSU. Cleveland paces the Gators with 15 receptions for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He is ‘questionable’ vs. the Aggies.

When asked about Cleveland at his Monday presser, Jim McElwain said, “Again, we’ll see. That’s going to be a tough one.”

Senior starting safety Nick Washington injured his shoulder vs. LSU and won’t play against Texas A&M. Washington is UF’s third-leading tackler with 29 stops. UF’s other starting safety, sophomore Chauncey Gardner, is listed as ‘questionable’ along with reserve redshirt freshman LB Jeremiah Moon. Both players suffered undisclosed injuries vs. LSU. Gardner went into the LSU game leading the SEC in missed tackles (by five more than any other player in the league!), according to the folks at CFBFilmRoom.com.

Kadarius Toney, who has proven to be a big-time playmaker at WR for the offense, was going to miss Monday’s practice as well, according to McElwain. The undisclosed injury to Toney isn’t expected to prevent him from playing vs. A&M, however. Starting redshirt freshman OG Brett Heggie, who was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after an outstanding performance vs. Vandy, is in concussion protocol and considered ‘doubtful.’ Heggie missed the second half vs. LSU and was replaced by Tyler Jordan, the junior who started 11 games in 2015 and ’16.

The loss to LSU was only the second at The Swamp for McElwain and his first in SEC play. Nevertheless, the third-year coach is losing the fan base rapidly. Remember, he was hired by former AD Jeremy Foley, who retired last spring and was replaced by former Mississippi St. AD Scott Stricklin.

McElwain is 22-10 in his first 32 games, which is the same record Will Muschamp had at this stage of his UF tenure. But Muschamp left McElwain with more than a dozen defensive players that are now on NFL rosters. And those defensive players are responsible for nearly all 22 of his victories. Consider this: When an opponent has scored more than 14 points during McElwain’s reign, the Gators are 5-10 in those 15 games.

McElwain was brought in to ignite the offense, but this unit has been worse than it was during Muschamp’s time at the helm of what Steve Spurrier once called, “this great big battleship that we call Gator football.” UF is currently ranked No. 103 of 130 FBS teams in total offense. The Gators are No. 93 in the nation in scoring with a 25.0 points-per-game average, but don’t forget that Florida has three defensive TDs. Without those, UF would be averaging 20.8 PPG.

UF averaged 23.2 and 23.9 PPG in McElwain’s first two seasons. Muschamp’s last team scored at a 30.3 PPG clip.

Guess what else? McElwain’s recruiting has been the worst this program has seen in decades. Even Ron Zook recruited at an extremely high level. And the great defensive players Muschamp left behind are nearly all gone. That side of the ball is quickly sliding  and experiencing fatigue with a lot of young players getting a ton of playing time.

Many out there feel McElwain is safe, as if a pair of SEC East titles have bought him all sorts of equity. Please! These are the Dark Ages of the SEC East. Winning this division over the last five years has been like being named the tallest midget in the room.

Granted, Georgia is and has been Florida’s little dork that it takes lunch money from daily on the playground since 1990. If Cleveland gets healthy and UF somehow finds a way to get past A&M to boost its confidence, there’s no doubt that the Gators can beat UGA yet again with an A-Game performance.

But this doesn’t look like the same old Georgia, although that can always change when it arrives in Jacksonville. And this definitely looks like the same pedestrian McElwain offense that is absolute torture to watch for four hours on Saturdays.

Forget what you read and/or hear from whoever says anything to the contrary. Make no mistake about it whatsoever, if Florida loses to A&M and Georgia, it will have a 3-4 record with games at South Carolina and vs. Florida St. looming. And if the Gators go 5-6 with L’s to Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher’s worst FSU team, Stricklin will undoubtedly pull the trigger on a pink slip for Mr. McElwain.

And at that point, we can finally put to bed the rumor that I’ve been laughing at for decades. No, Jeremy Foley wasn’t one of the best ADs in America during his time at UF. In fact, he was a terrible AD, one that will go down with a .250 batting average in hiring college football coaches. That’s 1-for-4 in baseball parlance, as in a home run with Urban Meyer and strikeouts with Zook, Muschamp and McElwain. A .250 batting average in baseball is mediocre; it’s downright atrocious for ADs hiring football coaches.

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