Limping, struggling Gators down but not out

By Adam Silverstein
October 15, 2013

When looking at why the No. 22/22 Florida Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) have already taken a step back from the impressive 11-2 season they put together a year ago, start with the fact that the program is currently without 18 players that either started in 2012 or replaced last year’s starters in 2013 and has also been forced to demote two more starters due to severe lack of production.

The Gators lost 13 starters from their 2012 squad including nine seniors that graduated and four juniors that declared for the 2013 NFL Draft.

Florida entered 2013 without incumbents at left tackle, left guard, running back, wide receiver, tight end and kicker. UF also had to replace the entire interior of its defense including both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and both safeties.

The Gators have lost five more starters to season-ending injuries since Aug. 7.

Redshirt junior right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and redshirt senior kick returner Andre Debose (torn ACL) were both knocked out before the season began. Then, over a 22-day span from Sept. 21 to Oct. 12, Florida lost junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken fibula), senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL), and on Saturday, sophomore running back Matt Jones (torn meniscus).

Head coach Will Muschamp acknowledged Monday that he has never experienced a more injury-plagued season in more than two decades manning the sidelines.

“It is what it is. It’s unfortunate. More than anything, I hate it for the young men,” he said Monday. “They put a lot of time and effort into playing this game. For that to happen is just disappointing. I’m disappointed for them first of all.

“That’s what hurts the most, to see guys go through the struggle and having to make that phone call and tell them what’s going on or having to walk them in that training room and tell them what’s happening. That’s very frustrating for a young man as much time and effort as they put into it.”

Muschamp also lost a pair of freshmen for the season, players that were expected to contribute as reserves despite each being in his first year with the program. Linebacker Matt Rolin re-tore his surgically-repaired ACL and defensive back Nick Washington before the season, aggravated an old shoulder injury after the second week.

As if that was not enough, Muschamp has also been forced to bench two other starters, both specialists, due to each player severely underperforming all season long.

Redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin, the heir-apparent to Caleb Sturgis, was replaced on field goals by redshirt junior walk-on Frankie Velez. Junior punter Kyle Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2012, has been demoted to second string. He has been replaced with freshman Johnny Townsend, who will have his redshirt pulled and start the first game of his career.

Perhaps most notable of all is that Florida, despite these injuries and other setbacks, is still in control of its destiny. The Gators are 3-1 in Southeastern Conference play and face the SEC East’s lone unbeaten team Saturday when heading out on the road to face the No. 14/14 Missouri Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC).

A win over Missouri would put Florida in the driver’s seat, though two exceptionally tough games are forthcoming against No. 11/9 South Carolina and No. 15/16 Georgia.

So while the Gators have undoubtedly been handicapped by ailments and inconsistencies, shockingly there is still plenty to play for and achieve with six regular season games remaining in the 2013 campaign.

12 Comments

  1. gatorboi352 says:

    If Jordan Reed would have returned, we would be 6-0 right now. Our TE position is KILLING US, and is a big part of Muschamp’s stubborn offensive philosophy.

    #boldstatement

    • JamDog says:

      Bold statement, but I agree that we definitely would have beaten Miami and the LSU game would have been a toss-up

  2. cline says:

    Time to Man up and play Gator Football.

  3. Ken (CA) says:

    good wrapup of personnel issues. Has this been in the fire for a while, or a response to all the comments after Saturday’s loss?

  4. aziatic41 says:

    What is up with tight ends Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor ? Weren’t both of these guys rated as top 2 in the nation coming out of hs ? Why is converted TE Tevin Westbrook playing over them ? Just doesn’t make sense.

    Pease said in his press conference today that Muschamp has no direct influence on the plays he call during games. If that is the case then Pease should be on the hotseat. And I get the feeling that Pease may not be a SEC offensive coordinator. He may be more suited for an OC in a smaller conference. Valdez Showers is not a rb and Burton is not a true wr. Demarcus Robinson should have a bigger role in our offense with his size and speed.

    Just saying. Coaching offense is not that hard. Heck, the plays Pease has called this year have been nothing more than little league plays.

  5. Michael Jones says:

    Very frustrating about Kyle Christy. He was one of our biggest weapons last year. Feel bad for the guy.

    This whole season has been dizzying. I thought this team was ready to challenge for not only the SEC, but also the BCS Championship that so far has gone to every SEC champion.

    We can still have a great season, but, regardless, I believe that I for one am going to stop criticizing Muschamp. He’s had more than his fair share of bad luck injury/personnel wise and you’ve got to have your guys out there if you’re going to win a championship.

    • ziggy says:

      Michael – I agree with you. On top of all that, the juniors and seniors on the team aren’t really his guys, they’re Meyer’s guys. Next year will be Muschamp’s juniors providing major contribution. I still think changing from a spread offense to a pro-style offense, which means replacing every single position on the offense from the undersized OL to the receivers, takes multiple recruiting classes.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Good points. Especially about the undersized line. Muschamp needs a chance to recruit AND develop his hosses if we’re going to successfully play power football.

        GO GATORS!!!

      • gatorboi352 says:

        I’m so tired of hearing this “spread vs. pro style” argument. This offense is regressing, not getting better. There is a severe lack of development of talent on the offensive side of the ball. The philosophy is flawed. The scheme is not working. And the scariest thing is Muschamp shows absolutely no desire of changing ANYTHING. Maybe it will take 4 or 5 loses for him to look inward.

  6. gatorboi352 says:

    If Gators don’t make it to Atlanta this year, please believe Foley will be meeting with Muschamp after the season to light a fire.

    All the good intentions in the world mean nothing without results.

    • HardToKillGtr says:

      Also, good intentions pave the road to hell. Nothing secret or super about Coach M’s plan to win. He has to out recruit our competition for a bunch of NFL caliber players for every position plus some running backs like Adrian Peterson and a quarterback who is a perfect game manager and can act like he might throw it to keep the defense honest. I’m not trying to be sarcastic. That’s the plan. I hope he can do it. I forgot we’d have to keep the pipeline loaded with almost ready to start players for years like this one when the whole team is injured, sick with the plague, forgets how to play his position turns out to be a recruiting bust.

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