Gators notebook: List of unavailable players grew prior to Saturday’s kickoff

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida linebacker Andrew Chatfield Jr. brings down Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals in the first half Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

Florida’s list of unavailable players grew prior to Saturday’s kickoff against Vanderbilt.

In addition to the absence of tight end Kyle Pitts, who was ruled out by coach Dan Mullen earlier in the week after undergoing nose surgery following a hit in UF’s victory over Georgia, Florida added starting offensive lineman Stewart Reese to the list. The Gators were also without back-up quarterback Anthony Richardson, and linebackers James Houston and Jeremiah Moon were once again listed as unavailable after missing last week’s contest against Arkansas. Gainesville native Trent Whittemore missed the trip after suffering a punctured lung against the Razorbacks. 

Ethan Pouncey, Kamar Wilcoxson, Nick Oelrich, Lamar Goods, Hayden Knighton, Jaelin Humphries and Lucas Alonso also were unavailable to participate. 

As for the Commodores, they welcomed back offensive guards Drew Birchmeier and Dan Dawkins, along with defensive tackle Cameron Tidd and running back Ja’Veon Marlow. Vanderbilt’s leading rusher through two games this season, Marlow returned to the starting line-up Saturday after serving a four-game suspension for a violation of team rules. 

Defense starts slow

Florida coach Dan Mullen emphasized throughout the week the Gators couldn’t take winless Vanderbilt lightly. 

The secondary was well-aware the Commodores were not the SEC’s worst passing offense either, and with a middle-of-the-pack passing defense through six games this season, Florida wasn’t necessarily in position to rest on its laurels based simply on an opponent’s record. 

But that message didn’t help UF’s pass defense on Vanderbilt’s game-opening drive. 

The Commodores proceeded to drive 75 yards in 11 plays, with 61 yards coming through the air. Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals didn’t misfire a pass, completing all five throws to give the home team the early lead. 

It’s far from the first time this season Florida’s given up early points — considering the opposition, however, UF had hoped to break the pattern. 

Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, who would record an interception on the game’s final minutes, admitted he doesn’t understand why the Gators defense seems prone to early lackadaisical play. 

“We shouldn't need anything to motivate us to start strong. I don't understand why we do that, but, you know, it starts in practice,” Elam said. “I'm definitely (going to) try my best to have us go faster, get the play call faster, and just execute. I feel like we were supposed to dominate today and we didn't."

With Pitts still out, Gamble steps up again

Florida reserve tight end Kemore Gamble couldn’t hide his elation after hauling in his first collegiate touchdown two weeks prior in UF’s victory over Georgia. After all, it had not only been a long-time coming for the Miami native — it occurred with his mother in attendance, which also marked her first trip to Jacksonville. 

Little did Gamble know at the time, he was just getting started this season. 

The 6-foot-4 tight end hauled in two of Florida’s passing touchdowns, including a 30-yard catch-and-run from fellow back-up Emory Jones. He’d also haul in a 34-yard reception before finishing the day with three catches for 66 yards as UF secured a 38-17 win over Vanderbilt. As Gamble’s final score capped the double-digit UF victory, his teammates, who have seen No. 88 yearn for an opportunity like Saturday’s, couldn’t help but express their elation. 

“It was kinda awesome. I mean, it was pretty much the dagger, it put the game away,” Trask said. “He made the right read, and Kemore did the rest as far as execution goes and like I’ve always said in the past, Coach Mullen does a great job of just having a lot of people that are ready to play, and Gamble did a great job today.”

Mullen credited tight ends coach Tim Brewster as well, admitting it’s no easy task to replace Pitts, but the preparation put in by Gamble and fellow tight end Keon Zipperer make it look as if it’s a seamless transition. 

“I think you give a lot of credit, Coach Brewster’s done a great job getting those guys ready. Those guys have taken massive steps forward from where they were last year, both of those guys. You saw it in practice, you’d see it in games. You guys might not have seen a lot because we’ve got Kyle (Pitts). We’ve rotated those guys in, one drive against Texas A&M and everyone was like, oh my God, is Kyle Pitts hurt? We’re just giving them some reps, those guys are doing a good job,” Mullen said. “We probably don’t rotate them as much as we have everybody else but now all of a sudden they’ve had their opportunities and those guys have really stepped up big and played well.” 

Toney joins elite company

Not only did Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney turn in a dominant performance, which saw him register 197 all-purpose yards — he joined a select group of Florida pass-catchers with his 27-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against Vanderbilt. Toney’s score marked his seventh touchdown reception this season, giving Florida its first pass-catching duo with seven touchdowns apiece since Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy did it during the 2008 season. Toney also finished with a career-high 107 receiving yards, eclipsing his earlier mark of 92 yards set against Texas A&M earlier this season.