Bulldogs, Gators limp to rivalry game


Florida running back Trey Burton is tackled against Georgia during the first half of last year’s game in Jacksonville. Georgia defeated Florida 17-9.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 8:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 8:35 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE — If the Georgia Bulldogs are limping into EverBank Field today, and certainly they are, given the loss of some key offensive skill players, then the Florida Gators are coming in on crutches with IVs attached to their alligator arms.

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Florida running back Trey Burton is tackled against Georgia during the first half of last year’s game in Jacksonville. Georgia defeated Florida 17-9.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

In today’s battle between these two proud, but wounded, SEC programs, the Gators seem to be hurting the most.

This being a rivalry game, the Georgia side would argue that point. But consider this: if the BCS had standings for the most injured teams in America, based on the significance of injuries, Florida almost certainly would be sitting at No. 1.

The Gators enter today’s elimination game in the SEC East without their starting quarterback (Jeff Driskel), starting tailback (Matt Jones), both starting tackles (D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green) and a potential starting wide receiver and elite kick returner (Andre Debose) on offense. On defense, they are missing their best player and one of the nation’s most dominant players (tackle Dominique Easley). Plus, another starter is still hobbled by a sprained ankle (linebacker Ronald Powell).

It’s an injury list that’s hard to top, even though the Bulldogs have one that rates pretty high, too, in terms of severity.

During its two-game losing streak heading into last week’s open date, UGA was without its top two tailbacks, three of its top four wide receivers and a starting safety.

The difference-maker today may be the fact the Bulldogs are getting three players back (elite tailback Todd Gurley, wide receiver Michael Bennett and safety Tray Matthews), while the Gators have added one to their injury list this week (Humphries).

The reality is, the many injuries on both sides have impacted each team’s season — and likely will impact today’s game.

“I hurt for young men,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “These guys (on both teams) have put a lot of time and effort into playing college football. It's hard no matter where you are, the amount of time you put in, the offseason workouts, the practice, summer workouts. People don't realize the amount of time that they put into playing college football.

“As far as game-wise, regular season, you've got 12 games to play and you don't want anyone to get hurt. And it's not good for anybody. It's not good for college football when guys like (UGA wide receiver) Malcolm Mitchell, an outstanding player, has an injury. That's not something you want to happen to anybody."

To Muschamp’s credit (and his players and his staff), he has not used the many injuries as a crutch, so to speak.

“We don’t make excuses around here,” he has said several times when asked about the injuries.

Throughout it all, Muschamp and the Gators have steadfastly stood behind their man-down, man-up mantra. But as the injuries continue to mount, it’s almost become a man-down, freshman-up (and take that redshirt off) situation.

The Gators could end up playing three true freshmen today who were expected to be redshirted this season — offensive guard Octavius Jackson and defensive tackles Jay-nard Bostwick and Joey Ivie.

Despite their ever-thinning ranks (and a two-game losing streak in the SEC), the Gators are still a factor in the division race and remain hopeful of turning their season around.

“I know one thing about my team and my teammates: we’re going to keep fighting no matter what (the situation),” sophomore defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. “Just because we’ve lost three games, we’re still going to keep fighting. We’re not going to put our heads down. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Muschamp said a win today (which would be his first in the rivalry as a coach or player) would take a lot of the sting out of what has been a painful season (literally) for the Gators.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It's a huge game here at the University of Florida and the Gator Nation. And it's obviously an important game and we need to go over there and play well and coach well. There's no question it would certainly help things. We just need to go take care of Florida in this situation, and that's what we plan on doing."

The situation is pretty much the same for both Florida and Georgia. Their seasons have mirrored one another, from an early non-conference loss to a rival, to their records (both 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC) right on down to all the injuries.

And, somehow, both teams still have a chance, albeit an outside one, to win the division after Missouri lost in overtime to South Carolina a week ago.

"There are a lot of similarities in that regard,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “It's a very meaningful game to both teams. I know it's more important to us and Florida than the rest of the country. Both of us are not in the top 25 and still dark horses in the SEC Eastern Division race, but we're still in the race. We've both had a lot of injuries and are coming off an open date. We both realize it's a big game."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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