UF notebook: Zuniga’s absence felt at Kentucky

Florida defensive linemen Adam Shuler, left, and Jabari Zuniga. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

 After defensive end Jabari Zuniga left the Kentucky game with a sprained ankle in the first half, Florida’s pass rush seemed to slow down and the Gators ended the game with just one sack and three quarterback hurries.

 Zuniga’s absence had an impact.

 “I think it factored in, particularly on a couple of the third-down scrambles when the guy kind of took off running,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think we might have had a chance. But that’s football, guys play and get better. The biggest thing I took away from the game is our guys kept playing and we found a way to win.”

 The defense could be without Zuniga again against Tennessee on Saturday. He’s still recovering from the ankle sprain.

 “Injuries are going to happen,” Grantham said. “It’s really about the next man up, that’s the way we’ve approached it as the game was unfolding, because guys were going down during the game. Each week you’re going to have guys available and not available, so whoever’s available we’re going to play.”

 With Zuniga out last Saturday, true freshman end Khris Bogle saw extensive playing time at end, including in the decisive fourth quarter. He did not have any tackles but broke up a pass.

Freshman DBs coming on

 Florida’s three true freshman cornerbacks all saw the field in the Kentucky game, with Kaiir Elam seeing the most extensive playing time. He had his second interception in as many games, this one on the final play of the game. Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough also played. All three left a favorable impression on Grantham.

 “I think they did a really good job,” he said. “Our freshmen are really coming along. Kaiir (Elam) is a guy who has made plays and the moment is not too big for him, meaning he’s got really good poise.

 “If you go back to the UT Martin game, on the pick, he really was patient, didn’t panic and he made a play on the ball. Jaydon (Hill) is a guy coming along, with Chester (Kimbrough), both. So all three of those guys have made improvements and have really good futures.”

Stewart’s return

 After being suspended for the first two games of the season, junior safety Brad Stewart started against the Wildcats and had an immediate impact, recovering a fumble on the second play of the game. He finished the game with two tackles.

 “Brad did a good job,” Grantham said. “Anytime you come back, from a situational standpoint there’s some things that you kind of get in games that can help you. But Brad’s a physical guy. He’s really competitive. He’s a guy that really wants to do it the way you ask him to do it, so he’s really coachable in that regard. 

 “He’s a physical presence as a safety, as a tackler and a run filler, and he can cover guys. So, we’ll continue to work with him and pleased with his performance. We’ll just continue to get him reps.”

Little line shuffle

 Early in the third quarter in last Saturday’s game, offensive line coach John Hevesy moved Stone Forsythe from left tackle to right and inserted redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige at left tackle. The move sent right tackle Jean Delance to the bench for a portion of the second half.

 “I wanted to do it earlier in the game with Richard, just to get Richard in the game,” Hevesy said. “I wanted to get Richard into the game in the first quarter, but we didn’t have enough possessions and we lost possessions quickly.

 “I told him, ‘OK, coming out into the third quarter, second possession you’re going in.’ Unfortunately, you’re looking at it at that time, you’re realizing you’re down 21-10, I don’t know if it’s the right point to do it. But I told him, ‘Look, your number’s called.’ He did all right.”