GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida running back Kelvin Taylor’s first month of the season was shameful, educational and motivational.
He was publicly berated on the sideline after his throat-slash gesture in the end zone, benched the following week, quickly forgiven and then heavily leaned on to be the team’s offensive workhorse.
Taylor responded, maybe even better than the 25th-ranked Gators expected.
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”Feel like I’ve matured a whole lot,” Taylor said this week. ”I never meant it as a throat-slash. I meant it like the game was over. But at the end of the day, I never should have done it because it’s all about the team. We can’t celebrate in college, so I never should have done anything, period. I learned my lesson for sure.”
Florida (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) has learned plenty about Taylor since.
The son of former Florida great Fred Taylor carried 35 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the two games since coach Jim McElwain’s profanity-laced tirade, during which he yelled at Taylor ”look at me! Don’t look down! (Expletive) be a man!”
McElwain ripped Taylor again after the game, calling the gesture ”embarrassing to our administration, our university.” It drew a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Taylor expressed support for McElwain on Twitter the next day and was adamant this week that the whole thing was blown out of proportion.
”People acted like he slapped me across my head or did something like that,” Taylor said. ”It’s football. Everyone’s in the moment. … I understand exactly what he was doing. He was just in the moment. He was fed up. He’s just trying to discipline us. That’s what the whole team needed. That’s going to make the team better. I feel like he did the right thing and that’s my man, Coach Mac.”
The Gators might be saying the same about Taylor after Saturday’s game against third-ranked Mississippi (4-0, 2-0).
One of the key matchups will be Florida’s inexperienced offensive line against the Rebels’ vaunted defensive front, which features highly touted junior Robert Nkemdiche. Although Ole Miss’ defense has just five sacks, the unit has five forced fumbles, 19 quarterback hurries and 28 tackles for a loss.
”The effort from our guys is there,” Rebels coach Huge Freeze said. ”There are collapses in the pocket quite a bit, but the teams we have played have really had a plan to get it out quick for the most part.”
The Gators, meanwhile, have allowed eight sacks, including three last week against Tennessee.
So Taylor needs to be able to run the ball to take some pressure off a line that includes three first-year starters, a graduate transfer from Fordham and a fifth-year senior who is dealing with a degenerative shoulder injury.
Taylor welcomes the extra load.
”It just gives me more opportunities to make plays,” he said. ”Every time I’m in a game, I’m liable to take it to the house. I just want to keep getting those opportunities.”
Taylor has scored in every game this season, with that one touchdown against East Carolina getting far more attention that the others because of his throat-slash gesture.
Although McElwain later expressed regret for tearing into Taylor in front of teammates, coaches, cameras and 90,000 fans, he expects it to benefit the team and Taylor down the road.
”I think the one thing that gets lost is what a great person, great player, great teammate Kelvin Taylor is,” McElwain said. ”His teammates respect the heck out of him, and that’s what you want. … I’m sure glad he’s on our team. He’s a wonderful guy to be around, and it’s important to him. The Gators mean a lot to him. A lot. That’s pretty cool.”