Life without Bubba

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Andre Caldwell’s sprained knee comes at such a bad time. Not only was
he starting to emerge as one of the nation’s elite wide receivers, but
Tennessee is in The Swamp on Saturday and this was going to be a
special day for Caldwell.

It was two years ago that Caldwell’s season was ruined when he suffered a broken leg returning the opening kickoff against the Vols. UT’s return to Florida Field is something Caldwell had been looking forward to for quite some time.

Now, sidelined with a sprained knee, Caldwell will only be there to lend emotional support for his teammates Saturday. Caldwell’s presence at the team hotel on Friday night and on the sideline Saturday certainly will be appreciated by sophomore wide receiver Percy Harvin. But Harvin would much rather have Caldwell lining up next to him on the field Saturday.

Harvin has been nursing tendonitis in his Achilles’ since preseason practice and was somewhat limited in UF’s first two games. Urban Meyer said Monday that Harvin is close to 100 percent.

Tennessee now knows that, and the Vols know Caldwell and his blazing speed will not be in the lineup for the Gators. So, of course, Harvin is going to be the target of the Tennessee defense all game long.

We’re going to have to wait at least a few weeks to see how potent a full-speed Caldwell-Harvin combination is going to be this season.

The question now is: who is going to step up among the playmakers and take some of the heat off of Harvin on Saturday?

The Gators are confident they have enough playmakers to make up for the loss of Caldwell. We’ll see Saturday.

Perhaps the leading candidate to come up big is tight end/receiver Cornelius Ingram, who is coming off a huge game against Troy. The UT defense definitely will have to put a great deal of focus on Ingram because he creates matchup problems with his combination of size and speed.

UF has some other guys capable of having a breakout game Saturday, including wide receivers Louis Murphy and Riley Cooper and tailback Kestahn Moore. Another player to possibly watch for is true freshman wide receiver Deonte Thompson, whose reps have increased in practice this week. He definitely has the speed to go the distance.

The guy who’s really due is wide receiver/tailback Jarred Fayson. The coaches have been talking him up since early in the preseason, but he has not been the playmaker we were expecting to see in the first two games.

Fayson likely will get his chance Saturday. He’ll probably line up at quarterback, tailback and wide receiver, as the coaches try to put the ball in his hands. His role as a running back sort of disappeared after the opener but should be reprised for this game.

Another playmaker who appears to be on the verge of a monster game is kicker returner Brandon James. He broke two returns against UT last season (one was called back for a block in the back, and he was tripped by the punter on the other) and nearly went the distance twice last week against Troy.

Special teams could be a huge factor in Saturday’s game, and UF will try to create opportunities for James.

Life without Bubba will require a little adjusting, but the Gators have enough playmakers to keep the offense in big-play sync. You just have to feel for Caldwell, who had been looking forward to this game for a long time and now can only watch from the sideline.