Florida welcomes McElwain with most points scored in new coach’s debut
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Jim McElwain era opened with a passing grade.
Arguably better than any other coach in school history, too.
Will Grier accounted for three touchdowns, Treon Harris threw for two more and Florida overwhelmed New Mexico State 61-13 Saturday night. It was the most points scored in by a new Gators coach in his debut.
”It was that much, huh?” McElwain said.
The victory also extended Florida’s winning streak in season openers to 26, which is now the longest in the nation after Nebraska’s 29-year run ended with a loss to Brigham Young earlier in the day.
Grier and Harris were nearly perfect on the night, finishing a combined 29-of-36 passing for 379 yards and four touchdowns.
”They both did a great job,” McElwain said. ”I thought they really did. We moved the ball with both of them. … I thought the whole team responded well to both of them.”
Grier completed 15 of 17 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns to C’yontai Lewis. The redshirt freshman also ran for a score. Grier fumbled on a sack, giving the Aggies great field position and setting up their first score. But he was otherwise mistake-free in his college debut.
Harris completed 14 of 19 passes for 215 yards and two scores. The sophomore played the first three series, completing all seven of his passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Harris returned late in the third quarter and misfired on his second attempt.
McElwain likely will let the competition play out another week. After all, there’s not really too much that can be garnered from playing against one of the worst teams in major college football over the last three years.
”We’ll take a look at this and probably do something similar next week,” McElwain said.
The Aggies lost their 11th consecutive game, falling to 5-32 since the start of the 2012 season.
Still, so many aspects of Florida’s opener looked and felt completely different than the four less-than-stellar years under defensive-minded coach Will Muschamp. The offense was crisp and creative, complete with constantly changing personnel groupings as well as a variety of shifts and playmakers.
Fourteen different receivers caught passes, and the Gators finished with 382 yards through the air and 606 yards total. That was a welcome sight for most of the 90,000 in attendance since Florida has ranked in triple digits in passing the last three years.
”They’ve made a lot of progress, especially with their quarterback,” New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said. ”I think he’s done a great job with those quarterbacks. Those guys are really gifted players. I thought they executed their offense well.”
Brandon Powell got Florida’s scoring spree started with a 37-yard TD reception in the first quarter. Kelvin Taylor made it 14-0 with a 9-yard scoring run. He finished with 54 yards on the ground.
Lewis, Grier, Jordan Cronkrite, Jordan Scarlett and C.J. Worton also scored for the Gators.
The offensive line, which was the top question coming into the season, opened holes and held up in pass protection. Then again, a more telling challenge will come next week against East Carolina.
Only a few things went wrong for Florida: Grier’s fumble, a couple of defensive lapses and a glaring coaching mistake.
McElwain declined a 15-yard penalty on a third-and-6 play late in the second quarter, giving the Aggies a makeable fourth-down situation at Florida’s 31-yard line. Tyler Rogers connected with Teldrick Morgan for a score on the ensuing play.
The Gators bounced back with Grier’s second score to Lewis and coasted the rest of the way.
”I wanted our team to come out and not really prove anything, but maybe prove something maybe to themselves,” McElwain said. ”It’s OK to go out there and play your tail off. It’s OK to go out there and make some plays. I thought, for the most part, they did.”