Gators notebook: Players also had to deal with flu

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

The Gators had “anywhere from 20 to 30 guys missing practice every day this week” with flu-like symptoms, UF coach Dan Mullen said both during and after Florida’s 40-17 loss at South Carolina on Saturday night. 

Mullen spoke with SEC Network sideline reporter Alyssa Lang prior to the contest, who paraphrased the extent of the conversation in the pre-game broadcast, saying “leading up to kickoff (Mullen) sent a few back-up players home” to Gainesville due to symptoms. 

In his comments with the media following the loss, Mullen divulged a few more details regarding the team’s issues with illness, adding he wanted to highlight the effort rather than provide excuses immediately after the 23-point defeat.

“We had several guys not even come out onto the field on the bus. I don't want to make excuses for those guys, but I want to give our guys credit for battling, for facing adversity. We had a bunch of guys dealing with sickness. We had to fly some guys up separately from the team, keep everybody separated. Those guys, they still went out,” Mullen said. “Even though the large number of guys that missed practice, we had quite a few that our training staff tried to do a good job today of IV-ing guys and try to get them ready to be able to go out and perform. And so, that's what I love. I think our guys compete and they're going to work and they're going to fight and they're going to give everything they have.

"We as coaches have got to do a better job to put them in the positions for the effort they give, to put them in position to be successful."

Florida wide receiver Marcus Burke (88) makes the catch over South Carolina defensive back R.J. Roderick (10) for a big first down in the first quarter Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Burke makes memorable debut despite defeat

Florida freshman wide receiver Marcus Burke arrived in Gainesville with high expectations yet buried on a depth chart filled with upperclassmen. 

But with UF’s ranks depleted, the four-star signee from Jacksonville hauled in his first collegiate reception, and it was certainly one to remember. 

With the first quarter waning and the Gators trailing by a field goal, Burke, who made his UF debut the week prior against Georgia, hauled in a 61-yard reception from quarterback Emory Jones despite the presence of three South Carolina defenders. The field-flipping play would stand as the longest of the night by either team. 

Burke wasn’t done either, as the former standout from Trinity Christian Academy would get targeted seven times on the night, the second-most targets on the team behind Justin Shorter. Burke would finish the game with 73 yards on two receptions, putting him second behind Shorter on UF in receiving yards in the loss. 

Gamecocks go 5-for-5

In the lopsided win over the Gators, the Gamecocks did something they hadn’t done in nearly eight years. 

South Carolina scored on its first five possessions of the game, marking the first time since the program’s 70-10 win over Coastal Carolina on Nov. 23, 2013 that USC had scored on each of its first five possessions.

However, the Gators did get a stop on the Gamecocks’ sixth possession, which came at the top of the second half, though UF couldn’t capitalize where it mattered most – the scoreboard. 

Pierce doesn't get much run

Florida redshirt senior running back Dameon Pierce had his best performance of the season in the team’s 34-7 loss to Georgia. The Bainbridge, Georgia, native had 69 rushing yards on nine attempts against the Bulldogs, the most rushing yards he’s had in a game this season. In a backfield with five capable runners, Pierce had racked up eight touchdowns through seven games this season, and it seemed possible he’d be in for his first double-digit carry game of the year with the Gators facing a South Carolina defense ranked No. 88 in Division I in rush defense. But Pierce rushed just six times for 39 yards against the Gamecocks, a 6.5 yard-per-carry average. Mullen said the Gamecocks’ defense initially dictated the pass-heavy game plan, then UF had to try and air it out in the second half to make up ground. Though he also made sure to highlight Florida’s glaring need for improvement up front. 

”Obviously wanted to come in and run the ball – that was going to be something we wanted to do early on. They had everybody on the line of scrimmage, and you saw that, we were able to take some shots down the field,” Mullen said. “The other thing is we just got to execute better up front. I think we had some guys miss some time this week up front, but,  we still got to execute much better at the line of scrimmage.”

Gators' stat book

With 340 total yards vs. Carolina, Florida’s 4,207 yards this season is its second-most through nine games in the last 20 seasons, trailing only the 2020 campaign (4,526).

• With 82 rushing yards, Florida’s 2,023 rushing yards this season is the team’s most through nine games since 2009 (2,166) and eighth-most dating back to 1965.

• The game marked the first time in the 2021 season that Florida did not out-gain its opponent.