Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Colleges

Gators battered, but ready to face rival Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE — As Hurricane Irma approached over the weekend, coach Jim McElwain and his No. 24 Gators loaded up their electronic devices with Tennessee film to try to take their minds off the impending storm.

It didn't work.

Some players' families came to UF to ride out the storm. Sixty team members were affected by it, one way or another. Some families are still displaced.

But now that Irma has moved on from Florida, UF is trying to move on, too, to prepare for Saturday's pivotal rivalry game against No. 23 Tennessee.

"It's what we do," an uncharacteristically somber McElwain said Wednesday. "It's in our fabric."

And it sounds as if the Gators are like the rest of the state — not in great shape, but thankful things aren't worse.

After last week's game against Northern Colorado was canceled, the Gators adjusted their schedule accordingly. UF practiced Friday, Saturday and early Sunday morning before the storm struck, then resumed practice Tuesday. That's about the same amount of on-field time as usual, just in a different order.

Because of the altered schedule, the Gators had to rely more on offseason scouting reports than anything the Volunteers showed last week in their 42-7 win over Indiana State.

"Cramming it in is probably a good way to put it," McElwain said.

Players said they tried to do that when they were hunkering down in their dorms or apartments, when they weren't sleeping or playing board games. They FaceTimed each other to point out tendencies on film.

"At first we were more focused on ourselves, needing to make sure everyone is safe," defensive back Duke Dawson said. "So I mean, now it's back to football 24/7, so the preparation is there."

It will have to be. The Gators — and McElwain — can't afford an 0-2 start and an early loss in the wide-open SEC East.

The Vols have a quality, come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech. Georgia looks better than last year. Former UF coach Will Muschamp could have a contender at South Carolina.

"It's definitely a big game for us," receiver Josh Hammond said. "We definitely have to approach this game with a little chip on our shoulder. We have to show that we'll be ready to play."

Suspension update: McElwain didn't have an update on the status of the nine players who remain indefinitely suspended for their role in a university-related financial card scandal. That group includes top receiver Antonio Callaway and top running back Jordan Scarlett. McElwain said he has "no concern" about how the drawn-out suspensions could affect the season. UF police are conducting their own credit-card investigation.

Gator bits: After UF's offense continued its seasons-long struggle against Michigan, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will move to the press box to call the plays. … Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will start again at quarterback, McElwain said. … Interstate 75 could shut down because of Irma-related flooding, so expect extremely heavy traffic heading to or from the stadium. … UF will honor those affected by Irma with a decal on their helmets and by recognizing responders during the game.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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