Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a 12-part series that breaks down the Ole Miss Rebels’ football opponents in 2015.
By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
There are more questions than answers staring Jim McElwain in the face as he heads into his first summer camp with the Florida Gators.
The former Alabama offensive coordinator returns to the SEC after spending three seasons at Colorado State. McElwain improved the Rams each season, winning 10 games in 2014.
His teams have always relied on offense, but after four years with Will Muschamp, dynamic scoring attacks were not something Gator fans saw a lot of in The Swamp.
Florida ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense and eighth in scoring offense. While the Gators averaged two more points (30.2) than Ole Miss (28.3) in 2014, the Gators produced two fewer wins.
Florida could be better on offense, but it all depends on who ends up leading the plays. Many feel redshirt freshman Will Grier will be the starter when the Gators begin the season at home against New Mexico State.
Treon Harris is the candidate that has the experience having thrown for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns. McElwain said the decision on the starter revolves on how each bonds with the rest of the team.
“There’s a lot of talented guys out there that can throw it and do all that, but for some reason don’t click with the guys around them. And how they help those guys play better, that’s something we’re looking for,” he said. “I know those guys have done a good job of getting the guys together, doing the off-season workouts. To see which one of them kind of stood up, maybe did some other things. What I mean by that, just a little extra work in the weight room, maybe a little pulling the guys aside here or there and communicating with those O-linemen that are going to be their bread and butter as far as being successful. So I think the biggest thing is who’s going to move the football team up and down the field is really what it’s all about.”
The Gators do have weapons in wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who made 53 catches for 810 yards, the best season for a Gator since 2009, and in running back Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 565 yards and six scores. Only one offensive line starter returns to a roster that is expected to see true freshman round out the rotation.
Florida’s strength under Muschamp resided on defense, and seven starters return to a unit that was just behind the Rebels in total defense (329.8 yards allowed per game) last year.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named to the All-SEC and All-America teams after ranking first in the SEC with 13 pass breakups. Senior middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is also back after making 101 tackles last season.
“They did an outstanding job on defense, no doubt about it, and a lot of those guys returning that have experience. We’re going to have to lean on them as we introduce some of these younger guys, and yet it’s up to the offense to kind of take some of the heat off of them as well,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to be good in special teams. We’ve got to be able to flip field position and force teams to go long field when needed and try to sustain some drives to keep them off the field. That’s one of the things that, going through, we really have kind of set as a staff that we need to focus on. There’s some good competitive players over there.”
One of the newcomers on defense that is expected to play is a name familiar to Ole Miss fans. CeCe Jefferson, the nation’s top end prospect for the 2015 signing class, could factor into the starting lineup from the beginning. Another Gator that is expected to make an impact on defense is Caleb Brantley, a 319-pound redshirt sophomore defensive tackle.
Florida plays East Carolina in Week 2 before traveling to Kentucky. The Gators host the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 26, the week before the Rebels travel make the trip to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.