COLUMBIA, S.C. — Once again, Gators defensive linemen Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga traveled with the team for Saturday’s 38-27 victory over South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. But as warm-ups commenced under overcast skies, UF’s top pass-rushers weren’t dressed out in uniform, and Florida coach Dan Mullen would soon confirm on ESPN’s College GameDay that the two would miss the contest.
The Gators were still able to manage three sacks, in addition to seven tackles for a loss, but it was clear UF’s pass rush was suffering from their absence.
After the game, Mullen said he expected the duo to heal up during the bye week, with the intention of getting both players ready for a full week of practice prior to Florida’s upcoming match-up with Georgia.
“I’m extremely optimistic (they’ll return), you know, it’s been, how many weeks now? So, by medical standards and timing, I’m very optimistic that they’ll be good to go,” Mullen said. “I’m optimistic, honestly, that they’ll be good to go for next Monday’s practice. Game week, Tuesday at least the absolute latest, a practice for Georgia.”
Gators manage to avoid other serious injuries
While the Gators seemingly managed to avoid any long-term injuries, the rainy contest had more than its fair share of ailments.
Five UF players went down with injuries, including wide receiver Jacob Copeland, who took a nasty hit to the jawline on a second-half reception. Copeland would return to the game soon after, but he was one of the more fortunate ones. Defensive lineman Marlon Dunlap was seen banging his fist on the turf after suffering an injury late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Jeremiah Moon left briefly before returning, and Trevon Grimes came up hobbling on a late onside kick recovery. And starting defensive tackle Adam Shuler went down with an apparent knee injury, although he was also able to return for Florida.
While he wouldn’t elaborate on any maladies, Mullen did harp on the importance of the upcoming bye week when it comes to the health of Florida’s roster.
“Chance to hopefully get some guys healthy, you know what I mean? It’s good credit to the guys, our team, of next guy up to get us in this position with all the injuries we’ve had to deal with this year,” Mullen said. “But hopefully we get healthy. We’ve got a big break and have got a big three-game stretch after the bye to try to win the SEC East.”
UF makes a change up front
Likely looking to shore up the protection, the Gators made a change along the offensive line. Brett Heggie slid over to right guard in place of redshirt freshman Chris Bleich, allowing redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige to start at left guard. While not directly the cause, the result was 154 rushing yards, Florida’s most yards on the ground against an FBS opponent this season.
“We’re getting there, you know what I mean? Obviously you want a little more consistency out of it, but we are hitting explosive plays,” Mullen said of Florida’s run game. “I think just how people are playing us for those things it gives opportunities for explosive plays, in how they’re defending the run and trying to bracket different receivers and take receivers away from you, that you end up getting explosive plays.”
Said explosive play sets program record
Dameon Pierce’s 75-yard dash nearly accounted for half of Florida’s rushing total, and, despite Mullen stating the Gators are “getting there”, it put Florida’s rushing attack in the record books.
Pierce’s run was the 24th rush of 75 yards or more in the history of the football program, and it marked the third such run this season for the Gators. Coming into the 2019 campaign, the Gators had never strung together more than two runs of 75 yards or more in a single season.
Trask passes his way into elite company
Redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask continued his solid play, helping lead Florida to a 11-point victory on the back of 200 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. For a Gators offense that has lacked a strong aerial attack in the past decade, it seemed like a sight for sore eyes. As it turned out, Trask’s performance was as rare as it likely seemed to Florida fans. Trask became the first quarterback since Tim Tebow to throw four touchdown passes in a road game for the Gators.
“I would say just with reps and experience, you just gel more, you know, get better timing with the guys,” Trask said of his progression from back-up to starter. “We started clicking here in the second half, and I think some of that showed.”