GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain vowed his offense would be “dramatically better” this season. Through five games, it’s marginally improved.
The No. 18 Gators rank 77th in the nation in total offense after playing a relatively soft early schedule against Massachusetts (75th in total defense), Kentucky (108th), North Texas (99th) and Vanderbilt (73rd).
Florida (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) finished with a season-low 236 yards in a 13-6 victory at the Commodores last week, a pedestrian performance that has become somewhat routine in Gainesville.
The Gators will have to wait a week to see if they can fix their struggling offense since Saturday’s game against LSU (3-2, 2-1) was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew. Florida hosts Missouri on Oct. 15.
The Gators should get quarterback Luke Del Rio back. Del Rio missed the last two games because of a sprained left knee. But even when Del Rio was on the field, Florida was far from explosive.
The Gators managed 10 points through three quarters against UMass in the opener and then 19 points through three quarters two weeks later against North Texas. So McElwain, who was hired to fix Florida’s floundering offense, has failed to deliver through 19 games.
“Am I excited about where it is? No,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to get better play at some positions, and we’ve got to get more energy out of those positions. And yet that’s my responsibility.”
McElwain enjoyed offensive success at nearly each of his previous stops, including recent stays at Fresno State, Alabama and Colorado State. But nothing has been easy in two year at Florida.
Quarterback play has been a major issue, with McElwain starting Will Grier, Treon Harris, Del Rio and Austin Appleby. The Gators ranked 112th in total offense in 2015 and were mostly awful down the stretch, scoring two offensive touchdowns in the final three games last season.
Having no consistency at the QB position has been problematic. But it’s hardly been the only concern.
Florida has one proven playmaker at receiver, Antonio Callaway. Carries are shared among four running backs. There’s trouble creating holes and providing protection up front.
Florida’s offensive line was humbled at Tennessee and Vandy, taking a step back after showing some progress. McElwain challenged the line to play better.
“He just wants to see us be great and he knows how good we can be,” center Cam Dillard said. “The team goes as we go, so we take that on us. That’s part of the job at the University of Florida. You come here and you’re supposed to take care of your job and do what you need to do.”
The Gators have two sophomores and a true freshman starting on the line, but McElwain doesn’t want anyone using that as an excuse.
“This whole young offensive line thing, I’m over that,” McElwain said. “These guys have played enough.”
Florida wants to establish a strong ground game, forcing opponents to play more defenders near the line of scrimmage and then gaining big chunks of yardage with play-action passes. It sounds fine in theory, but if the run game gets stuffed, then what? The Gators aren’t dynamic enough at quarterback or receiver to look anything like the “Fun ‘n’ Gun” that once defined the program.
Since clinching a watered-down Eastern Division last season, Florida has averaged 21 points while posting a 6-4 record. That’s comparable to Will Muschamp’s final 10 games in Gainesville, in which the Gators averaged 27 points and went 5-5. Muschamp was fired for losing games and not scoring enough points.
The Gators believe McElwain will get the offense turned around. But when and if it happens is unclear.
“Do I have crystal ball? No,” McElwain said. “Did we do with what we have based on our team as far as some ball control and playing long field to give us an opportunity to win ball games? I think we did. That’s part of coaching — know what you have and keep pushing to get what you want.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of playing team football.”
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