GAINESVILLE — Coming off of an unimpressive win over UMass, Florida football coach Jim McElwain insisted he doesn't care about style points.
"I'm not a pretty guy anyway," McElwain said, "so I probably never win pretty."
Anyone who watched the Gators' offense last week — and the second half of last season — would probably agree. That could mean trouble in Saturday's SEC opener against Kentucky.
UF put up 24 points against a UMass defense that ranked near the bottom of the country last fall. Florida averaged 3.7 yards per carry — 85th in the country and more than a half-yard worse than when it was manhandled by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. The Gators' 5.8 yards per pass was tied for 97th nationally and a yard lower than the loss to Alabama in the SEC title game.
The recent woes came after an offseason filled with optimism. The Gators were expected to improve in their second season in McElwain's system. The new starting quarterback, Luke Del Rio, knew that system well. The offensive line was more experienced and helped by a promising receiving corps and a deep set of running backs.
So what happened?
Some of the problems were circumstantial. Rain caused Del Rio to get his feet wet literally as well as metaphorically. Six other offensive contributors were making their UF debuts, including starting offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor.
The receiving corps was already thin because of injury (C.J. Worton) and suspensions (Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells). When Dre Massey went down with a leg injury that will sideline him the rest of the season, the Gators were down to five available scholarship receivers — and two of those were true freshmen. Worton could return Saturday, while Cleveland and Wells should be back in the mix after having their BB gun-related felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. On Wednesday, their arraignment dates were set for Sept. 22.
But many of the issues run deeper. McElwain said the biggest cause for concern was the effort.
"The main thing is, we just have to finish," right guard Tyler Jordan said. "That's what we have been working on this week at practice — getting to the ball, keeping up a high tempo and trying to finish every play."
An offensive line that allowed a nation-worst 45 sacks last season continued to struggle.
UMass burned five-star recruit Martez Ivey twice early, once on a failed fourth-and-1 rush inside the 10. Del Rio was pressured on three of his first five passing attempts.
"We've got to clean that piece up and make sure we keep the chief clean," McElwain said.
When that happened, McElwain was pleased with how Del Rio performed in his first start — especially his two touchdowns with no interceptions. Del Rio was happy with it, too, aside from a handful of throws.
But Del Rio was bothered by UF's red-zone problems. The Gators took away a field goal to attempt that unsuccessful fourth-down conversion, and Del Rio missed twice inside the 20 to kill another drive and set up one of Eddy Pineiro's three field goals.
"We gave Eddy some shots at some field goals," McElwain said, "but I'd rather have touchdowns."
And facing a Kentucky team that put up 35 points and 409 yards of offense last week, his Gators are going to need them — fast.
Times correspondent Ethan Bauer contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.