Florida football: Is it Jacob Copeland’s time to shine vs. Kentucky?

By Michael Phillips
September 13, 2019
Florida football: Is it Jacob Copeland’s time to shine vs. Kentucky?

Image Credit: Jay Metz / UAA

The No. 9 Florida Gators took care of business against Tennessee-Martin last week, and while things went according to plan on the field (particularly in the second half), the Gators did suffer a couple losses in the game. A pair of Florida’s junior playmakers — electric wide receiver Kadarius Toney and star cornerback C.J. Henderson — both suffered injuries and are set to miss the SEC opener against Kentucky. 

Henderson is expected to miss just one game with a sprained ankle, but Toney is looking at a few weeks on the sideline due to a shoulder injury. Toney wasn’t utilized a lot, but his skillset presented a major threat defenses had to take into account on every play. With him banged up there is a hole in the offense. 

The Gators have a deep receiving corps and could plug in seniors Josh Hammond or Freddie Swain in that role. However, with Jacob Copeland turning some heads so far this season, the redshirt freshman seems like he could to fit into Toney’s role nicely. 

“I think one of the things, he’s a physical guy, has size,” head coach Dan Mullen said of Copeland. “He has that ability where he’s a little bit multiple. He’s still learning how to be an every-down receiver. But a lot like Kadarius in that way. You can do different things, put the ball in his hands, and he can make things happen. A little different style than Kadarius.

“It’s not like, ‘Hey, we’re going to plug him in with what things Kadarius was doing,’ but there are some things that he does pretty well with the ball in his hands.”

Copeland has had a tough first year in Gainesville, Florida. He battled through injuries, including a torn meniscus before last season, which forced him off the field for most of the year. Everyone knew what he could do when healthy, but he had few opportunities to prove it in action. 

This past Saturday, when Toney went down, it was Copeland who came in and filled his role in the second half. He finished the game with three receptions for 23 yards and the first touchdown of his career. 

“It’s exciting for Cope for him to come in and get his first one, especially it being in The Swamp,” Hammond said. “He has been through so much: coming here and first getting injured and then having to kind of sit around and wait a year until he can finally get back and try to get back into the swing of things. 

“He has worked so hard trying to get back healthy, and then once he got back healthy, just learning the offense and trying to learn the different positions and things that he was really good at — and finally getting back to the swing of things. He has definitely been through so much, and it was definitely exciting for the receiver group just knowing what he has been through and to finally getting there and making the plays we know he can make. It’s definitely exciting to see.”

This is the first time Copeland has made a big impact in a game, but he does it frequently in practice. And one guy who lines up across from Copeland on a daily basis said the talented receiver is just scratching the surface. 

“He took snaps at running back, too, so you can put him anywhere on the field and he’s gonna make plays,” redshirt sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said. “That was really only the first time he got to do something serious in a game, and that’s only the beginning for him. I think that guy is gonna be a great player for the season to come.”

While that could certainly be true, Toney is an exceptional athlete, and you cannot simply plug-n-play with another guy in his position. Not too many players are as elusive as him. Still, Copeland adds a different style to the position and has a lot of similar qualities. The Gators feel comfortable he will succeed in that role.

“He definitely has a lot of juice to him,” Hammond said. “That speed is one thing that’s big with Cope. You saw it with the jet sweep and little plays like that. Those are things that he can take to the house, and you wouldn’t think of him because we haven’t used him that much because we always use K.T. 

“So I think the biggest thing, with K.T. being out, we can get him into the swing of things and use him in a lot of different ways that we didn’t use him before just because we always used K.T. before. It’s going to be exciting. I think we can use him in a lot of different ways. He is going to be excited as well.”

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