Several weeks ago, I wrote that Florida fans needed to give Jim McElwain two years of leeway before they start judging him, for better or worse. This remains true now, and will remain true as we go forward.
But there are a few things that McElwain does need to accomplish if his inaugural season is to be considered a success. And of course, college football is a black and white universe, with very little gray. Some point in the near future, I’ll write up a more subjective checklist for McElwain, which will look deeper than numbers, stats and the answers to yes or no questions, but this black and white list should serve as a good indicator as to whether his first year is successful (and no, he isn’t necessarily a failure if he fails to accomplish all five).
1) Beat Georgia
Simply put, Florida’s got to beat Georgia to make the season a success. Lose this game, and Florida cedes all logical opportunity to win the SEC East. UGA will lose their two or three games they choke away every year, but no way Florida comes into this game undefeated, either, not with road trips to LSU and Missouri in the preceding weeks. They don’t have to make Atlanta in his first year, mind you, but they do have to at least compete to get there until the very end. And while FSU has received the majority of the hate from Florida fans, Georgia has been quite annoying to deal with in recent years- until last year. Of course, a lot of that had to be with Will Muschamp’s glaring coaching deficiencies, but McElwain needs to prove that the 2014 win was not a fluke. Time to reclaim dominance over the Dawgs with a second straight win.
2) Employ a top 25 ranked defense (yards and/or points per game)
Part of what made Will Muschamp so awful was that his football knowledge was limited to defense. He had no idea how to run an offense, and even worse, had no idea how to hire people who did. Predictably, the results were horrendous- Florida finished outside the top 100 in FBS (out of 125-130 teams) in three of his four seasons. Now let’s see if McElwain made the right hire, and more importantly, learns how to stay the hell away from an area of his team he’s not as familiar with. There’s talent there, between Antonio Morrison, Jonathan Bullard, and that nasty VH3 led secondary, and it’s time to see it shine with what should be the Gators’ best offense since 2008 complementing it.
3) Will Grier throws for 3,000 yards (includes bowl game)
For Florida’s offense to properly function, Will Grier has to be able to burn teams with the deep ball. Eclipsing 3,000 passing yards in 13 games is a pretty good goal, then, as it’s what Aaron Murray did in all four years at Georgia. It equates to 230 yards a game, which isn’t asking for too much, but enough production out of him that Florida doesn’t hide him the way they hid Jeff Driskel. Part of what made Dan Mullen’s Florida offenses so lethal was that when defenses crowded the box to stop the run, he would make them pay for it by throwing over the top. Establish that threat with Grier, and things will be looking good.
4) Go undefeated at home
Once upon a time, the Swamp was a treacherous, foreboding place for opponents to visit. The tenures of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer cemented Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as one of the nation’s toughest places to win. That all disappeared under Will Muschamp, who turned the Swamp into a place where only Tigers, Gamecocks, Commodores and FCS teams got out alive. Thanks to the damage done in each of the last two years, it’s time to repair the image built by Spurrier and Meyer. This isn’t as tough a task as it may seem, either, as two of Florida’s four toughest games (Missouri, and LSU) are on the road. All that’s left is to beat Ole Miss and FSU teams that figure to come back down to earth after recent successes, plus Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida Atlantic, East Carolina and New Mexico State. It’s time to make the Swamp a living hell again.
5) Employ at least one 1,000 yard rusher
Florida actually had a 1,000 yard rusher under Muschamp (Mike Gillislee in 2012), but before that, this hadn’t been since since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Part of this was because Urban Meyer’s offense utilized four or five guys at a time who were equally capable of breaking off a long run, but (at least to my knowledge) McElwain doesn’t have that. So this running game is going to need a leader, a featured back who can inflict the bulk of the damage and then sit back and chug Gatorade as his backups carve up the worn out defense. Establishing this dependable back (and the first place I’d look is the direction of Kelvin Taylor) is key to the offense’s success, as Will Grier is going to need a successful running back he can trust to take some of the pressure up, and also open up some holes in the secondary.