Five Gators who impressed in bowl game


Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Gerald Willis will be transferring from Florida. Daniel McMillian has been added in his place.

Despite a losing record over the last two seasons, Jim McElwain isn’t walking into a complete rebuilding process at Florida. The Gators have talent, and former coach Will Muschamp made sure that was known on his way out the door.

"They've got a deep and talented roster,” Muschamp said in his exit news conference. “So don't let that new guy tell you he doesn't have any players. I can tell you that right now. There are some good football players in that locker room."

Muschamp wasn’t lying. That talent was on display in Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl, and McElwain was on hand to see it for himself.

Here are five returning players who probably turned the head of their new coach in the bowl game:

QB Treon Harris: Who will start at quarterback for Florida next season? That’s the biggest question mark heading into the McElwain era. We know that Jeff Driskel is out. He’s transferring to Louisiana Tech. That leaves Harris as the early favorite to win the job. No, McElwain doesn’t have a history with dual-threat quarterbacks, but Harris showed some good things in the bowl game before getting injured. On one drive in particular, the freshman went 3 of 3 through the air for 34 yards and also picked up a critical third-and-17 with a 24 yard run. He capped off the drive with a nice ball to Brandon Powell for the touchdown.

RB Adam Lane: Raise your hand if you thought Lane was going to have a big day. The freshman had just eight carries for 73 yards coming in, and he wasn’t even listed on Florida’s depth chart prior to the game. None of that mattered, though. Interim coach D.J. Durkin gave him a chance, and Lane delivered with 16 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. He showed speed, power, vision – all the qualities McElwain will be looking for in his next running back. And even if Lane doesn’t win the starting job, keep in mind that McElwain liked to feature two backs when he was at Alabama. There will be a place for Lane if he keeps running like he did.

WR Ahmad Fulwood: Gator fans have been waiting for Fulwood to break out since he arrived in 2013. He simply hasn’t lived up to the hype in his first two seasons, but on just one play, he showed us all what he’s capable of. The sophomore took a screen pass, sliced through the defense and once he saw daylight, he turned on the jets. The 6-foot-4, 202-pound wide receiver raced past the entire East Carolina defense on his way to an 86-yard touchdown. Can you imagine McElwain’s reaction in the box where he was watching the game? He had to be giddy seeing the size and speed of one of his top returning playmakers.

LB Daniel McMillian: Similar to Fulwood, McMillian was another top prospect from the 2013 class who never got his chance under Muschamp. Part of the reason was because he was playing behind Antonio Morrison, the Gators’ top tackler this season. But when Morrison went down in the bowl game, McMillian finally got his opportunity. He finished with five tackles and showed his athleticism on a near interception that he couldn’t quite haul in. Either way, Florida fans were probably happy just to see him on the field. McMillian could have a major impact on Geoff Collins’ defense next fall.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III: It’s hard to praise a secondary that allowed 427 yards passing, but keep in mind that East Carolina attempted an astonishing 68 passes. As for Hargreaves, he’s arguably the best returning player on Florida’s roster, and he proved that again Saturday. At times, he was terrific. He applied the pressure which led to the pick-6 early in the game. On a fourth down, he came up and laid out an ECU wide receiver, stopping him short of the first down. And with the game on the line in the final minutes, he pulled down an interception in the end zone that clinched the victory for the Gators. No surprise here.