GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain has no patience for pointless penalties.
McElwain threw a defensive lineman out of practice last week after he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag during a scrimmage. McElwain declined to identify the offender, but he made it clear he plans to provide similar quick hooks for anyone committing "selfish acts" during games this season.
It's one of many changes McElwain has made in his first year at Florida. This one might yield immediate returns.
After all, the Gators were the most penalized team in the Southeastern Conference over the last five years.
"Those are the unforced errors that have been the Achilles' heel for a long time around here," McElwain said. "I'm tired of it."
Florida was flagged 475 times for 3,834 yards between 2010 and 2014, ranking fifth nationally in penalties and 15th in yards. McElwain wasn't around for those years, but he has watched enough video to know the Gators have a penchant for self-inflicted punishment.
"If they continue to do it, they can continue to do it somewhere else," McElwain said. "I've been around some really good coaches, obviously, and that's something you don't see by great football teams. That's not how they act. They play hard between the whistles the way the game's supposed to be played and they don't bring attention to themselves. That's just what we believe in and how we're going to run the program.
"We've got some behavior that we've got to keep working on. What are we? The most penalized team in the last five years, six years, whatever it is? I don't know where we sit. It's ridiculous."
Former Gators coach Will Muschamp seemed to be fed up with his team's on-field behavior, too. Muschamp kicked defensive lineman Gerald Willis off the sideline in his final game, a loss at Florida State in November, after Willis drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for forearming Jameis Winston out of bounds.
"If I was still head coach, he'd be kicked off the team," Muschamp said after the game. "Ridiculous."
McElwain took a similar approach from Day 1, telling players to clean up their act.
"In the first team meeting, he said we need to clean up penalties," cornerback Jalen Tabor said. "We've been last in the conference, at the bottom of the nation in penalties. With all the penalties we had, we're giving teams the game."
Penalties were a huge factor in three losses last season, including two that essentially cost Muschamp his job.
Defensive back Brian Poole was flagged for holding on a 3rd-and-17 play against LSU in October, keeping alive a drive that eventually resulted in a touchdown that put the Tigers ahead 20-17. LSU ended up winning 30-27.
Receiver Quinton Dunbar was penalized for holding in the fourth quarter against South Carolina, wiping out quarterback Treon Harris' long run that put the Gators at the 6-yard line. Instead of possibly scoring a touchdown and going up 24-10, Florida had to settle for a field-goal attempt, which was blocked, and the Gamecocks won 23-20 in overtime.
Muschamp was fired the following day.
"It's a lot of hidden, lost yardage," defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. "We just need to be better at that."
The Gators don't have a lot of room for error on offense. They have inexperienced quarterbacks, a revamped offensive line and few playmakers. Moving the ball regularly could be difficult, and negative yardage surely won't help the cause.
Drawing flags on aggressive plays is fine, to a point, but false starts and lining up offside are frowned upon. Anything that would draw a 15-yard penalty — like unsportsmanlike conduct — won't be tolerated.
"We don't put up with it," McElwain said. "There's no excuse. There's absolutely zero. To me, it's one of the most selfish acts somebody can do because it's them and it's usually because you're not going as hard as the other guy so now you're going to be Mr. Tough Guy or whatever. And then because of your actions, you hurt the team.
"I just don't see any place for that. I don't get it. There's no place on a football team for a selfish player. It's that simple. We just don't put up with it."
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