AP NEWS

Gators eager to get back to football

September 14, 2017

COLUMBIA, Mo. • The college football season is just two weeks old, too early to make decisive judgments about most teams, good or bad, especially Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators.

The two-time defending Southeastern Conference East Division champions have played just one game — and played it with a depleted offense. The No. 24 Gators (0-1) showed no semblance of offense in a 33-17 loss to Big Ten power Michigan, then had last week’s game against Northern Colorado canceled because of Hurricane Irma. The Gators are still without nine players who are suspended for undisclosed reasons, though multiple Florida outlets have linked the suspended Gators to a credit card fraud investigation. On Wednesday, McElwain said there was no update on their status heading into Saturday’s home opener against No. 23 Tennessee.

The nine players, including star receiver Antonio Callaway and starting running back Jordan Scarlett, don’t appear on the team’s updated depth chart.

The status of Saturday’s SEC opener game against Tennessee was unclear until the SEC announced Tuesday that the game will go on as scheduled as the entire state of Florida recovers from the destructive storm. UF administration consulted with Gainesville city officials and the league office before deciding to keep the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

As for the Gators, the families of around 50 players had their homes affected by Irma, McElwain said.

“Our first thoughts are with our kids, their families and the state of Florida and all the people affected in a way that I don’t know if you get back to normal,” McElwain said. “I’m hoping this game, being able to play it here, helps some people with a couple hours of enjoyment as they try to get their lives back together. It’s been a tough prep, but I know we’re really looking forward to bringing a game back to ‘The Swamp’ and the people of this city an opportunity to get back to a football Saturday and maybe relieve their minds for a little bit.”

By the time kickoff arrives Saturday, the Gators will have had two weeks to stew over a flat showing in their opener. With redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks getting the start against Michigan, McElwain’s team managed just 192 yards of offense, including just 11 on the ground. The Gators allowed six sacks, converted only two third downs and never got into the red zone. UF’s two touchdowns came on interception returns.

Franks, who completed five of nine passes for 75 yards, would have benefited from a game against FCS Northern Colorado last week but instead gets his second start in a crucial rivalry game. Still, McElwain called the decision to cancel the game “the right choice.”

“There is no normality moving forward,” he said. “Things have been changed forever. Kids are resilient. I know they’re looking to get their mind off it. ”

ROUGH WEEK FOR SEC QBS

The second week of the season was humbling for some of the quarterbacks hailed as the league’s top passers. Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri all carried high expectations into the season based largely on their accomplished quarterbacks. All three offenses looked dreadful Saturday.

In their 28-7 loss to Texas Christian University, the Razorbacks followed their first-quarter 75-yard touchdown drive with five punts and two missed field goals. Austin Allen, regarded by some as the league’s best passer, completed just nine of 23 attempts.

Auburn faced a far more formidable defense at Clemson, but Gus Malzahn’s usually potent attack was barely functional. Clemson sacked Jarrett Stidham 11 times and held Auburn to just 117 yards of offense, the program’s fewest yards in the 95 games for which Malzhan has served as head coach or offensive coordinator.

Missouri’s Drew Lock, the league’s most experienced quarterback in terms of SEC starts, fell to 3-13 in conference games as a starter with MU’s 31-13 loss to South Carolina. In coordinator Josh Heupel’s offense the last two seasons, Lock has completed just 52.3 percent of his passes in nine SEC games with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

For the season, he’s thrown two touchdowns in the red zone — both against Missouri State — but those are his only completions in 11 passes inside the 20-yard line.

Heupel expects better things to come from his junior starter.

“I think he and we are close to playing at a high level in conference or out of conference,” Heupel said. “We weren’t able to do that last week. We weren’t able to put the ball in the end zone, but a quarterback in part is only as good as the 10 other guys around him. At the same time a quarterback’s got to be good enough to make up for the 10 other guys. I know I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth right there but that’s how it all comes together.

“I believe in Drew. I believe he’s really close to playing the way he’s capable of playing the way we need him to play.”

BIG 12-SEC SHOWDOWN

With 15 wins in three-plus seasons, Derek Mason didn’t have instant success at Vanderbilt but has gradually guided the Commodores to more success lately. He’s only 189 career victories behind his counterpart Saturday. Mason was a freshman cornerback at Northern Arizona in 1989 when Bill Snyder took over as head coach at Kansas State. Mason knows what to expect from Saturday’s Big 12 foe in Nashville. He’s compared K-State’s punishing offensive style to Stanford and Southern California.

“It means you better bring a hard hat, a lunch pail and a cup of coffee because they’re going to physically try to beat you up in all three phases,” Mason said. “They don’t beat themselves. They don’t make mistakes. They take advantage of your mistakes and make you pay.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

Tennessee at Florida, 2:30 p.m., KMOV 4

The Volunteers snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Gators last year, though Florida has still dominated this series since the 1990s, winning 20 of 26. The Gators and Vols have combined for 17 of the 25 SEC East championships since the league split into two divisions.

SEC POWER POLL

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Georgia

4. Auburn

5. Tennessee

6. South Carolina

7. Florida

8. Vanderbilt

9. Mississippi State

10. Kentucky

11. Ole Miss

12. Texas A&M

13. Arkansas

14. Missouri

SEC SCHEDULE

UL-Lafayette at Texas A&M, 11 a.m., SEC Network

Tennessee at Florida, 2:30 p.m., CBS

Mercer at Auburn, 3 p.m., SEC Network Alternate

Purdue at Missouri, 3 p.m., SEC Network

Colorado State at Missouri, 6 p.m., ESPN2

LSU at Mississippi State, 6 p.m., ESPN

Samford at Georgia, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network Alternate

Kentucky at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

Kansas State at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU

Ole Miss at California, 9:30 p.m., ESPN