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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

McElwain: ‘We didn’t tackle worth a hill of beans’ against Tennessee

<p dir="ltr">Florida football coach Jim McElwain paces the sideline during UF's 31-13 loss against Florida State on Nov. 26, 2016, in Tallahassee.</p>

Florida football coach Jim McElwain paces the sideline during UF's 31-13 loss against Florida State on Nov. 26, 2016, in Tallahassee.

Jim McElwain has plenty of reason to celebrate following Florida’s home opener against Tennessee this past weekend.

The No. 20 Gators’ thrilling, last-second victory over the Volunteers not only helped the program avoid its first 0-2 start since 1971, it kept its aspirations of winning a national title this season in tact.

But when McElwain addressed members of the media Monday afternoon and was questioned about the game, his mood was less than joyful.

The third-year coach was critical of his defense’s effort in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, stating he was disappointed with its inability to finish off plays.

“Late in the game, we didn’t tackle worth a hill of beans,” he said. “That’s been pointed out and will continue to be pointed out.”

McElwain’s analysis is spot on.

After allowing a meager 211 yards on defense through the game’s first 45 minutes, UF collapsed against the Volunteers in the final period of action.

Tennessee running back John Kelly torched the Gators with 149 all-purpose yards in the fourth quarter, running rampant across the field as Florida struggled to contain him.

Kelly had four separate plays in the frame that garnered 18 yards or more, including a 34-yard touchdown run that saw safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. and linebacker David Reese fail to bring him down, as well as a 52-yard reception that saw several more UF players miss.

“We started to wear down a little bit,” Reese said. “They made some good adjustments coming back after halftime. We just got to be able to be ready to play the whole game.”

McElwain didn’t hold back from calling out the team’s defensive backs either. When asked about Gardner Jr., who botched multiple opportunities against the Volunteers, the 55-year-old coach told reporters “you saw what I saw.”

“What bothered me was the secondary tackling, especially from some of our quote ‘good guys, veterans,’” McElwain said. “Just guys not doing what they’re supposed to do.”

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To make matters worse for Florida moving forward, senior cornerback Duke Dawson is “highly questionable” to play this weekend against Kentucky after suffering a hit to the head against Tennessee, according to McElwain.

Dawson has nine tackles on the year as well as two interceptions, and was the only player on UF’s defense to be named to the Coaches’ Preseason All-SEC First Team.

If Dawson is unable to go against the Wildcats, that likely means three first-year players starting at cornerback for Florida, with freshmen Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson positioned outside and redshirt freshman C.J. McWilliams slotted at nickelback.

“It puts some pressure on us,” McElwain said. “Obviously at corner, some guys are going to have to step up. That’s what they came here to do.”

Whether the Gators’ younger backs can finish plays better than their veteran counterparts this Saturday is yet to be seen, McElwain stressed the necessity of tackling as the season progresses.

“Just something we have to continue to do,” he said.

You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at ddixon@alligator.org.

Florida football coach Jim McElwain paces the sideline during UF's 31-13 loss against Florida State on Nov. 26, 2016, in Tallahassee.

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