The firing of Will Muschamp brings new management in former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain. The more offensive-minded McElwain has a tall task taking over a Florida team with a list of questions on that side of the ball, including sort of a big one: finding a suitable quarterback.
How the Gators beat you: McElwain will eventually bring his pro-style, up-tempo offense to Gainesville, but fixing a passing game that’s been atrocious for the past five years—third worst in the conference in 2014—isn’t going to happen overnight. And so the Gators should improve on a rush game that’s grown increasingly promising—their 188 yards per game last year was tied for their best total since 2009. Leading rusher Matt Jones is gone, but junior Kelvin Taylor has 1,073 career rushing yards, 10 TDs and the talent to be a solid go-to back in this league. He does, however, need to improve on his career 4.7 yards per carry and be more consistent with his pass-blocking.
How you beat the Gators: Florida hasn’t averaged more than 186 passing yards per game in a season since 2009, and with a QB battle between Treon Harris, who started six games last year, and redshirt freshman Will Grier, defenses should be licking their chops. “It’s a learning curve—a steep one right now for them,” says new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. “They weren’t under center last year, so we’re starting from that. Talking about getting in a stance, proper hand placement to take a snap.” Whoever wins the job must improve on last season’s 52.2 percent completion rate.
How the Gators beat you: Florida ranked second in the SEC and was tied for 11th in the FBS with 30 takeaways last season, and its pass defense will be particularly ferocious again this year. Among the talent returning—seven starters altogether—is Vernon Hargreaves III, arguably the country’s best cover corner (13 pass breakups and 3 INTs last year), and senior Brian Poole, who led the team with 4 interceptions. Junior safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal combined for 107 tackles and another 4 INTs. “I am really impressed with the amount of talent they’ve collected at the position,” McElwain says of the depth he inherits in the secondary. “Those guys are really good players.”
How you beat the Gators: If you consistently run the ball on Florida, the defense will wear down. The Gators are thin at linebacker, and the interior of the defensive line is relatively young. Florida allowed 116.2 rushing yards per game (third in the SEC), but there was a stark difference between how the team performed in wins versus losses. In defeats, the Gators allowed 72 more rushing yards per game and almost two-thirds of their 10-plus-yard runs. And with three of their five losses coming by a touchdown or less, every yard could have made a difference.