GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In discussing what needs to happen to support freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks’ development, Florida coach Jim McElwain on Monday mentioned better protection up front — and also issued a challenge of sorts to his wide receivers.
“We also need to go get open against man-to-man coverage,” McElwain said.
That was a struggle for the Gators in their 17-16 loss to LSU last weekend, the absence of top wideout Tyrie Cleveland (high ankle sprain) hard to ignore.
Sophomore Josh Hammond and senior Brandon Powell tied for the team lead in receiving yards. With 29. Florida finished with just 108 yards passing against the Tigers, the lowest total in McElwain’s two-plus seasons. And the lack of open receivers was among the reasons why.
Cleveland was not spotted in the early periods of practice Tuesday that re open to reporters. McElwain hasn’t officially ruled him out for the game Saturday against Texas A&M, but he did say Monday “that’s going to be a tough one.”
Freshman receiver Kadarius Toney, mostly used in the wildcat or on short screen passes thus far, is dealing with shoulder and shin injuries. He was not active at practice, either, and his status for Saturday is also up in the air.
Barring some good news on Cleveland the rest of the week, though, the onus will again be primarily on Hammond, Powell and sophomore Freddie Swain to provide open targets in Florida’s limited passing attack.
Hammond, for one, indicated he didn’t need any extra nudge or challenge this week. The results against LSU were motivating enough.
“That’s every day, though, in the game of football. It’s all 1-on-1 battles, me against you, and whoever wins is going to come out on top,” Hammond said after practice Tuesday of McElwain’s comment. “Guys coming out on top in 1-on-1 battles is what you want. … You want the 1-on-1s to show that you’re better than the guy you’re going against.”
Florida is already without its intended top pass catcher in junior Antonio Callaway, who is indefinitely suspended. So the absence of Cleveland can’t be understated.
Even with the missed game, Cleveland is now the Gators’ lone established deep threat and leads the team in receptions (15), receiving yards (326) and receiving touchdowns (2). Hammond is second on the team in yards with 122. Cleveland’s big-play ability has already produced several momentum-swinging plays this fall.
Hammond and Swain readily admit that Cleveland’s absence had an impact on the receiving corps in general.
“Definitely a big impact. Tyrie Cleveland, he definitely brings a big deep threat, and we didn’t really have any deep passes thrown or anything like that,” Hammond said.
Said Swain: “I mean it affected us because Tyrie is one of the faster receivers and he can definitely be a DB’s nightmare.”
McElwain doesn’t want his team making any excuses, though, regardless of who or who isn’t on the field.
“Anytime you lose big playmakers, it obviously has an impact. But I also expect the other guys to pick up the slack and go forward,” McElwain said.
Hammond and Swain were both 4-star recruits. Freshman Daquon Green, who has yet to get a chance in the offense, is another highly touted 4-star prospect who drew praise during the preseason. And redshirt junior Dre Massey, the much-touted junior college transfer who missed last season with a torn ACL, remains a wildcard the Gators have yet to really play as he has just 1 catch for 2 yards.
Hammond knows the onus is on the unit to deliver a better performance against a leaky Texas A&M secondary, and along with McElwain’s challenge he said he’s taking it upon himself to reiterate that to his fellow receivers.
“Just being on them, ya know? Guys come here to compete, you’ve got to be ready to compete. It’s a mental thing to me,” Hammond said. “I think if you came here to play football at the University of Florida, you’ve got to be ready to go against the best. It’s just a mental thing for me. You’ve got to come out, work hard and your preparation will help you on game day.”
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