Sept. 13-- Like many Floridians, coach Jim McElwain was not quite past Hurricane Irma.
The storm left Gainesville, Fla., early Monday. Two days later, many people in the city, including McElwain, still were picking up the pieces.
The 55-year-old's somber mood and subdued tone reflected Irma's impact on him and his "football family," as well as millions of people statewide.
"Sometimes, we get really caught up in what we do and realize ultimately," McElwain said. "Sometimes, third down and seven is not the most important thing in life."
At the same time, McElwain knew what UF fans seeking an escape through football expect of the Gators this week: move on from Irma and beat rival Tennessee on Saturday in the Swamp.
"It's resilience," McElwain said. "It's time to pick back up and get going, and that's what we're going to do."
Before Irma was even on the radar, the Gators' toughness had been questioned following a season-opening 33-17 flop against Michigan.
Now, UF players must summon a much better effort and maintain their intensity level to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole and losing for the second straight season to the Vols (2-0).
"If we keep that energy and mindset, I feel like we can accomplish anything," defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. "I feel like that's what kinda messed us up in the Michigan game."
But this weekend, the Gators will be playing for much more than themselves.
Given the stakes of the game and the psyche of many of those who plan to attend, McElwain expects an inspired performance from his team.
"I know our guys are excited to play," he said. "And hopefully play with a little bit of passion and desire for the people of the state of Florida."
While emotions are sure to be high, the Gators will face the Vols with a 19-year-old quarterback in just his second college start and nine players still suspended.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks was benched during the third quarter of the Michigan game after his second fumble. Despite that, Franks has won his teammates' trust.
"He's a leader. A natural-born leader," sophomore receiver Josh Hammond said. "He comes in the huddle fired up every play no matter if we're losing, winning, third-and-15, third-and- 1, you know he's always ready to go. That's something that I admire about him.
"I think that's a big thing that he brings to the game and his calmness definitely allows to stay calm and move forward a little bit."
Meanwhile, the Gators will be missing their leading receiver (Antonio Callaway) and rusher (Jordan Scarlett) for the second consecutive game as local law enforcement investigates them and seven teammates for their roles in alleged credit card fraud.
McElwain said he has "no concern" the lingering case would affect his team. He also knows his struggling offense could use a lift, leading him to move coordinator Doug Nussmeier from the field to the coaches' booth.
Nussmeier, whose offense failed to score a touchdown against Michigan, spent the last season on the sideline in order to communicate directly with the quarterbacks.
"He'll be able to communicate with those guys between series on the headsets," McElwain said. "It's him being able to see it in a sterile environment. That will help."
After days waiting out Irma, the Gators were ready to return to a routine Wednesday.
"At first we were more focused on ourselves, needing to make sure everyone is safe," fifth-year senior cornerback Duke Dawson. "I mean, now it's back to football 24/7."
UF actually was able to practice Friday, Saturday and early Sunday, but team meetings and game planning were disrupted by the storm.
McElwain said the Gators would be "cramming" the next few days preparing for one of the biggest tests during his three seasons in Gainesville.
The 2016 Vols ended an 11-game losing streak to UF with a 38-28 come-from-behind win and now look to catch the Gators still reeling from a chaotic, emotional week.
McElwain said he and his team will regroup by the time the teams take the field.
"It's what we do. It's in our fabric," he said. "One of the great lessons you learn in athletics and especially the game of football is sometimes you get knocked down. The measure of a true man is how he gets back up and that's what we're going to do."
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