NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Florida coach Will Muschamp has a saying he likes to use when he talks about injuries: Man down, man up.
In other words, when somebody gets injured, his backup is expected to step in and play well.
That is exactly what happened in the Gators’ 31-17 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday. UF was without three starters for the start of game, had two more go down with injuries during the game, and lost two more for significant periods of time because of minor injuries. Yet Florida was still able to rush for326 yards and extend its streak of not allowing opponents to score 20 points to seven games (including last year’s bowl game).
Even better news for third-ranked Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC) is that most of those injured players should be fine for Saturday’s showdown against No. 9 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) at Florida Field. If the Gators beat the Gamecocks, they would be able to clinch the Eastern Division title by beating Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., the following Saturday.
Florida started the Vanderbilt game without starting LG James Wilson (eye), LB Jelani Jenkins (hamstring) and DT Dominique Easley (knee). Wilson suffered his injury during Wednesday’s practice and did not make the trip. Jenkins ran in pregame warm-ups but his hamstring, which he injured against LSU, didn’t feel right, so he was held out.
Easley has been experiencing swelling in his right knee, which he injured against Tennessee. That’s the same knee on which he had surgery in December to repair a torn ACL.
Muschamp said all three players should be able to play against South Carolina. Wilson likely won’t practice Monday but should return Tuesday, Muschamp said.
Redshirt sophomore Ian Silberman made his first career start in place of Wilson. He was quickly joined by two other reserves after C Jonotthan Harrison suffered a right arm injury and LT Xavier Nixon suffered what Muschamp said was an upper body injury. Redshirt senior Sam Robey replaced Harrison and freshman D.J. Humphries replaced Nixon.
The Gators were still able to rush for 326 yards, which included 177 yards by QB Jeff Driskel, who broke Tim Tebow’s record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a game in school history.
“We’re a little bit of a MASH unit on the offensive line,” Muschamp said. “So I was really proud of those guys, as many looks as Vanderbilt gave us, to be able to rush for 300-something yards.”
Muschamp said he’s not yet sure of the extent of the injuries to Nixon and Harrison, but Harrison’s didn’t appear to be serious. His right arm was wrapped from mid-bicep to his wrist after the game but he was not using a sling and was able to move his elbow.
TE Jordan Reed left the game in the first half after taking a hard hit, but returned in the second half. The Gators lost WR Latroy Pittman in the second half to an ankle injury and Muschamp said he’s not sure the status of that injury. LB Michael Taylor and TE Kent Taylor also were limited by ankle injuries.
Several other players – DTs Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr and S Josh Evans – suffered minor injuries but returned to the game. Jacobs appeared to injure his leg, and Orr appeared to be suffering from cramps. Evans was hurt while making a tackle and it appeared that he was injured when he landed on Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers’ foot.
With few of the injuries appearing serious, the Gators should be nearly at full strength for the Gamecocks. But even if they aren’t, Muschamp is encouraged by the way the reserves played, which is proof that the Gators are a much deeper team than they were the past two seasons.
“It says a lot about our guys stepping up,” Muschamp said. “Man down and man up.”