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Gators notebook: Bulldogs facing former player in UF's Cox

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. drives through the stiff arm of Missouri receiver Keke Chism, left, to make a tackle Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart is familiar with many of the Florida players. And then there’s one he’s very familiar with..

 Defensive end Brenton Cox Jr.

 Smart recruited the five-star Cox to Georgia, only to see him transfer to one of the Bulldogs’ biggest rivals after his true freshman season in 2018.

 Now, Smart will face his former player Saturday in Jacksonville.

 Smart is impressed with what he’s seen from Cox this season.

 “Brenton is playing really well,” he said on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday. “He’s an explosive pass rusher, a really good player like he was coming out of high school. He plays really hard. He’s hard to block.

 “(Defensive coordinator) Todd (Grantham) does a job job of putting him in situations where he gets to rush. He’s really good at rushing the passer, like all the guys Florida has had in the past. They’ve always had good pass rusher-type guys.

 “He’s playing really well for them. He’s playing physical and playing hard. He’ll create some issues for us Saturday. We’ve got to do a good job knowing where he’s at.”

'Dogs wary of Pitts, Toney

 Cox isn’t the only Gator the Bulldogs are going to be aware of at all times Saturday. Tight end Kyle Pitts is another.

 Pitts, UF’s leading receiver, has been a match-up problem for opposing secondaries throughout the season.

 “You’ve got to know where he’s at,” Smart said. “Certainly, he’s extremely talented. He was last year and he’s only gotten better. He’s gotten a little bigger, a little more physical. Dan (Mullen) finds ways to use him in both the run game and pass game.

 “He’s elite. He’s first-round talent, there’s no question about that. I have a lot of history in the SEC and I don’t know that there’s been a guy like that. He’s a receiver and a tight end in one.”

 Toney has become another potential game changer for the Gators this season, having evolved into a more complete wide receiver in his senior year.

 “Much more,” Smart said. “He was always good and I thought Dan used him, but Dan had more weapons around him when (Toney) was younger. Now, he’s a more polished receiver on top of the utility stuff.”

 Toney is coming off a career game in the win over Missouri last Saturday. He caught two touchdown passes and ran for a TD, sparking the 41-17 victory.

 “He’s extremely hard to tackle,” Smart said. “He’s got extreme quickness, one-step quickness. And he plays powerful. When people hit him he doesn’t go backwards. He’s physical in what he does. He’s become a better receiver and they’re using him really well.”

Filling in for LeCounte

 On Saturday, the Bulldogs will be without All-American safety Richard LeCounte, who was injured in an accident involving a dirt bike last weekend and is expected to be out several weeks.

 He’s a tough player to replace, but Smart is expressing confidence in the players lining up to replace him — Chris Smith, Lewis Cine and Tyrique Stevenson.

 “We’ve got some guys that have played,” Smart said. “Chris has had to play quite a bit. I value practice a lot. He has worked really hard and played a lot in practices. Then, we’ve got other guys as well, between Lewis and Tyrique.

 “They’ve all practiced at safety. We have depth there. I’m looking forward to those guys playing. They’ve got a great challenge. It’s an opportunity as well to go out and play against one of the most explosive offenses in the country.”

Davis, Pickens still hurting

 Two of Georgia’s best players — wide receiver George Pickens and nose tackle Jordan Davis — are listed as day-to-day this week with injuries. Davis injured his elbow against Kentucky last Saturday, while Pickens has been nursing an upper- extremity injury.

 “(Pickens) practiced the other day,” Smart said. “It’s going to be a pain tolerance deal. Hopefully, he’s able to play. We need him to be at his best for us to be where we need to be offensively.

 “Jordan is still day-to-day. Hopefully, he’s able to go. We’re trying to get him back, even if it’s just a role. Hopefully, he can play a role in the game.”