Flu, injuries on Meyer's mind


Florida head coach Urban Meyer yells after player Jaye Howard draws an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the fourth quarter against Tennessee in Gainesville Saturday, September 19, 2009.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 3:37 p.m.

The solemn mood that seemed to descend on Gainesville after Saturday's 10-point victory over Tennessee might be lingering for a few days.

That's because No. 1 Florida (3-0) finds itself having to deal with some significant issues this week, the most serious perhaps being the flu.

The Gators had three starters affected by the flu last week and in Saturday's game, and UF is on high alert to contain a possible spread, UF coach Urban Meyer said Sunday.

"I would say this, it is a panic level of proportions I've never seen before. That's coming from me," Meyer said. "Wisconsin had 40 players miss, Ole Miss had 20.

"My wife, with great insight, realized the swine flu hit the Florida campus last week. So our training staff and doctors are attacking this as hard as we can. The Purell stuff (hand sanitizer) is everywhere. You can't walk down the hallway without everyone telling you to do this, do this. We're trying the best we can, but it's real."

Tailback Jeff Demps, tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham played despite being sick. All three clearly struggled Saturday.

"We suffered. We had guys miss time, three of our best players," Meyer said. "One shouldn't have played. If it's anybody else but Jeff Demps, they said he probably wouldn't be able to function, and Jeff didn't look right. Aaron Hernandez, we're watching the film, he didn't play like Aaron Hernandez, and Jermaine didn't play like Jermaine.

"I think Hernandez is on the back half (of the flu). We're worried about Demps. He's on the front half. We have a separate dorm room, a separate hotel room. We put them on whatever the flu stuff is. Our team doctors are on it as fast as you can get on it."

Along with the flu, UF also has concerns about All-America middle linebacker Brandon Spikes' injured Achilles tendon and the Gators' injury-depleted wide receiver group.

Spikes missed most of the second half Saturday. He was in a protective boot and did not practice Sunday. Meyer said he is probable for Saturday's game at Kentucky.

"It's a pain issue. It's not structural," Meyer said. "It's not a pull, it's a tendon sprain. I think it's all pain tolerance.

"He was very limited Wednesday. It's one of those things you've really got to treat. Thursday he battled through it. I am concerned about it. The good thing is he won't do anything (Sunday)."

Meyer said he's also concerned with UF's situation at wide receiver. Starter Deonte Thompson missed Saturday's game with a strained hamstring and his status is uncertain for the Kentucky game. UF is down three receivers who either were starters or scheduled to be in the playing rotation Thompson, Carl Moore and true freshman Andre Debose.

Moore is out indefinitely with a back injury, while Debose is out for the season after undergoing surgery last week to repair a torn hamstring tendon.

Meyer said Sunday starter Riley Cooper pinched a nerve early in Saturday's game and nearly was pulled, but he played the rest of the game.

With three redshirt freshmen (Omarius Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr. and T.J. Lawrence) still not quite game ready, the Gators are low in numbers at wide receiver.

"We've got to get a little better (at wide receiver)," Meyer said. "Right now, our receiving corps is not Florida standards. When Deonte is in there, I think it is.

"When he's not, there are some young players starting to make a move who have to get a little better. There is a sense of urgency with that group this week because that limits you if you don't have a vertical stretch in your offense. We're down Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson and Andre Debose. That happened one other time, in 2005. Bubba Caldwell broke his leg, Dallas Baker had a broken rib and Jemalle Cornelius had a high ankle sprain.

"The offense was in reverse. We're not there because we have more depth, but we have to get a little better."

With Thompson out Saturday, the Gators had no down-field passing game to speak of. That was partly due to Tennessee's zone coverages and partly to conservative play-calling by UF.

Meyer said in retrospect, maybe he should have opened things up a little bit more in the offense. But he said the Vols were making no effort to win the game and there was no reason to take any unnecessary risks.

"I didn't feel like they were going after the win," Meyer said. "They wanted to shorten the game. I think that was the plan. There are 10 minutes to go and they're not in a no-huddle. It's 23-6 and no urgency (on UT's part).

"The way we lose a game there is throw an interception. Why put yourself in that position. Let's find a way to win the game. We're not trying to impress the pollsters, we're trying to win the game. A lot of it had to do with the way they were playing. It made our life a little easier."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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