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In a different Swamp environment, Florida Gators planning to focus on football

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
UAA has spaced out the seating for fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to comply with COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Saturday's game against South Carolina is the home opener for the Gators.

This is going to be a surreal Saturday in The Swamp, for sure. And not just for the players, coaches, fans. Everybody.

The parking lot attendants, the ticket takers, the writers and broadcasters, the ushers, the concession workers, the first responders, even the referees and the guys on the chain gang.

Everybody.

Saturday

Who: South Carolina (0-1) vs. No. 3 Florida (1-0)

When: Noon

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850

COVID-19 has changed just about everything, and that includes college football, of course, and Florida home games.

But the focus will never change. It’s all about football, all about the game.

Florida senior center Brett Heggie, for one, will have no trouble focusing on football Saturday despite the new and strange surroundings in such a familiar stadium.

“You look across the line of scrimmage and see a different name on the jersey, and that’s really all I need,” Heggie said. “Just having the goal that we have to go win the game, and that’s important every single week, to go out there and execute to win.”

That’s the Gator goal Saturday. Win the game, then move onto the next one — assuming there is a next one. Above all else, ignore the surreality of it all and focus on playing ball.

The Gators have already shown they can do that. They did it in Oxford a week ago. Greeted by an empty Grove and a sparsely separated crowd of only 13,926 in the stadium, UF kept its focus on what was happening on the field and beat the Rebels 51-35 with a record-setting performance by quarterback Kyle Trask and the offense.

“It was very different. I’ll say that,” Heggie said of the lack of atmosphere a week ago. “Just oddly quiet. Again, very easy to talk to one another and all be on the same page. So that kind of helped out, but it’s just very different. It feels like a scrimmage.

“It felt like a scrimmage just because there’s no noise, and I’m not used to that. The past four years, obviously, it’s always been hostile wherever we’ve been, and it was different.”

Saturday will be different, too.

The Swamp will be at 20% capacity, meaning the largest the crowd can get is right about 17,000. Chances are it won’t be that big. UF coach Dan Mullen was still urging fans late in the week to buy up unsold tickets. So, there’s a chance Saturday's game won’t be a sellout.

Still, Mullen is counting on the crowd, however big or small, to produce enough noise and atmosphere to give the Gators a home field advantage.

“If we have 17,000 in the stadium, I think they will make enough noise to make it difficult on South Carolina,” he said. “But also the players. They feed off the energy of the crowd. The more people we have there, the more our players will feed off the energy of their home crowd.”

Offensively, the Gators are hoping to stay on the roll they got on in the opener. Trask threw for 416 yards and six touchdowns — four going to tight end Kyle Pitts — and the offense amassed 642 total yards, a school record against an SEC opponent.

Defensively, the Gators are looking to rebound after surrendering 443 yards passing and 613 total yards to Matt Corral and the Rebels.

“(We’re) a little bit ahead (offensively),” Mullen said. “I certainly hope we continue to improve offensively. We didn’t come out to peak in week one. I expect the offense to get better. I just think the curve is going to be quicker for the defense as the season goes on and we start playing more football.

“I expect us to make a really big jump from week one to week two defensively with tackling, the effort, with running to the football, with communication and making sure we are fitting everything properly. I expect us to be much better defensively this week.” 

Sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam said last week’s game felt like a loss to the defensive players. The plan is to atone Saturday.

“We’re coming with a swagger about ourselves and a different type of mindset than the first game,” Elam said. “We didn’t play well, so it’s like a big old weight on our shoulder right now, and I feel like we are looking to have a very, very, very better showing.”

DEPTH CHART

FLORIDA

Offense

QUARTERBACK: No. 11 Kyle Trask (R-Sr.), No. 5 Emory Jones (R-So.), No. 2 Anthony Richardson (Fr.)

RUNNING BACK: No. 20 Malik Davis (R-Jr.) -OR- No. 27 Dameon Piece (Jr.), No. 6 Nay-Quan Wright (R-Fr.)

WIDE RECEIVER (X): No. 8 Trevon Grimes (Sr.), No. 3 Xzavier Henderson (Fr.)

WIDE RECEIVER (Y): No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 14 Trent Whittemore (R-Fr.)

WIDE RECEIVER (Z): No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.), No. 89 Justin Shorter (R-So.)

TIGHT END: No. 84 Kyle Pitts (Jr.), No. 88 Kemore Gamble (R-Jr.) -OR- No. 9 Keon Zipperer (So.)

LEFT TACKLE: No. 72 Stone Forsythe (R-Sr.), No. 75 T.J. Moore (R-Jr.)

LEFT GUARD: No. 76 Richard Gouraige (R-So.), No. 62 Griffin McDowell (R-So.)

CENTER: No. 61 Brett Hegge (R-Sr.), No. 65 Kingsley Eguakaun (R-Jr.)

RIGHT GUARD: No. 51 Stewart Reese (R-Sr.), No. 78 Josh Braun (Fr.)

RIGHT TACKLE: No. 56 Jean Delance (R-Sr.), No. 70 Michael Tarquin (R-Fr.)

Defense

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: No. 17 Zachary Carter (R-Jr.), No. 9 Gervon Dexter (Fr.)

NOSE TACKLE: No. 56 Tedarrell Slaton (Sr.), No. 55 Kyree Campbell (Sr.) -OR-

No. 91 Marlon Dunlap Jr. (R-Sr.)

DEFENSIVE END: No. 1 Brenton Cox Jr. (R-So.), No. 10 Andrew Chatfield (R-So.)

BUCK: No. 7 Jeremiah Moon (R-Sr.) -OR- No. 8 Khris Bogle (So.), No. 4 David Reese (R-So.)

MIDDLE LINEBACKER: No. 51 Ventrell Miller (R-Jr.), No. 41 James Houston IV (R-Jr.)

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: No. 30 Amari Burney (Jr.), No. 11 Mohamoud Diabate (So.)

CORNERBACK: No. 3 Marco Wilson (R-Jr.), No. 23 Jaydon Hill (So.)

STAR: No. 12 C.J. McWilliams (R-Sr.), No. 2 Brad Stewart (Sr.)

CORNERBACK: No. 5 Kaiir Elam (So.), No. 25 Chester Kimbrough (So.)

FREE SAFETY: No. 6 Shawn Davis (Sr.), No. 22 Rashad Torrence II (Fr.)

STRONG SAFETY: No. 13 Donovan Stiner (Sr.), No. 0 Trey Dean III (Jr.)

Special Teams

KICKER: No. 19 Evan McPherson (Jr.), No. 71 Chris Howard (R-Jr.)

PUNTER: No. 18 Jacob Finn (R-Fr.), No. 26 Jeremy Crawshaw (Fr.)

LONG SNAPPER: No. 48 Brett DioGuardi (R-Sr.) -OR- No. 40 Marco Ortiz (R-So.)

HOLDER: No. 18 Jacob Finn (R-Fr.), No. 26 Jeremy Crawshaw (Fr.)

KICK RETURNER: No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.)

PUNT RETURNER: No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

Offense

QUARTERBACK: 15-Collin Hill, 3-Ryan Hilinski

RUNNING BACK: 20-Kevin Harris OR  14-Deshaun Fenwick

FULLBACK: 46-Adam Prentice

WIDE RECEIVER: 5-Dakereon Joyner, 89-Ger-Cari Caldwell

WIDE RECEIVER: 84-Xavier Legetteico Powers, 4-Luke Doty

WIDE RECEIVER: 13-Shi Smith, 4-Luke Doty

TIGHT END: 9-Nick Muse , 82-Keshawn Toney

TIGHT END: 80-Mullins, 88-Will Register

LEFT TACKLE: 79-Dylan Wonnum, 75-Jazston Turnetine

LEFT GUARD: 50-Sadarius Hutcherson, 76-Jordan Rhodes

CENTER: 71-Eric Douglas, 74-Vincent Murphy

RIGHT GUARD: 54-Jovaughn Gwyn, 68-Wyatt Campbell

RIGHT TACKLE: 52-Jaylen Nichols  OR 55-Jakai Moore OR  77-Vershon Lee

Defense

END: 15-Aaron Sterling, 91-Tonka Hemingway

TACKLE: 5-Keir Thomas, 6-Zacch Pickens

TACKLE: 99-Jabari Ellis, 90-Rick Sandidge

BUCK: 52-Kingsley Enagbare

SLB: 19-Brad Johnson, 45-Spencer Eason-Riddle

MLB: 53-Ernest Jones, 30-Damani Staley

WLB: 44-Sherrod Greene OR 30-Damani Staley

CORNERBACK: 1-Jaycee Horn, 22-John Dixon

SAFETY: 7-Jammie Robinson, 21-Shilo Sanders

SAFETY: 10-RJ Roderick, 8-Jamar Brown

CORNERBACK: 24-Israel Mukuamu , 9-Cam Smith

N: 7-Jammie Robinson; 1-Jaycee Horn

DIME: 8-Jahmar Brown; 10-R.J. Roderick

Special Teams

PLACE KICKER: 43-Parker White, 98-Mitch Jeter

PUNTER: 39-Kai Kroeger, 36-Christian Kinsley

LONG SNAPPER: 59-Matthew Bailey, 9-Nick Muse

HOLDER: 39-Kai Kroeger, 36-Christian Kinsley

PUNT RETURNER: 7-Jammie Robinson OR 1-Jaycee Horn

KICK RETURNER: 13-Shi Smith OR 17-Xavier Legette OR  7-Jammie Robinson