GatorZone.com Senior Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As he prepared to make the first start of his career on Saturday night, Gators offensive lineman Ian Silberman pondered a scary thought in the locker room.
After all, the redshirt sophomore had not started a game since his senior season of high school three years ago.
"It felt weird,'' Silberman said after Florida's 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. "I thought I was going to forget about going out there for that first series."
Thankfully for the Gators, No. 77 slipped on his helmet and lined up at left guard when the Gators took the field for the game's opening drive.
Silberman started in place of the redshirt senior James Wilson, who suffered an eye injury in practice Wednesday and did not travel with the team to Nashville.
By the time the game ended, the two guys who started next to Silberman -- center Jon Harrison and left tackle Xavier Nixon -- were no longer in the game. Harrison left early with an arm injury and Nixon left in the second half due to what Florida coach Will Muschamp termed an "upper body" injury.
True freshman D.J. Humphries replaced Nixon and senior Sam Robey took over for Harrison on the Gators' rebuilt line.
"We were a little bit of a M*A*S*H unit on the offensive line, so I was really proud of those guys -- as many looks as Vanderbilt gave us -- in being able to rush for 300-some yards,'' Muschamp said. "Our center-to-left side was all new guys. Those guys did a fantastic job of getting a hat on a hat."
Despite the injuries, Florida rolled up 326 yards rushing, led by quarterback Jeff Driskel's 177 yards, the best single-game rushing performance for a quarterback in school history.
The offensive line wasn't the only unit that suffered lumps and bruises on Saturday.
Junior defensive tackle Dominique Easley experienced more swelling on the injured knee that forced him to miss the Kentucky game and did not play. Easley traveled with the team but watched the game from the sidelines.
"We feel like he'll be fine for next week but thought we would be pushing it this week,'' Muschamp said. "We needed [the swelling] to calm down a little bit."
Starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins also made the trip but did not play. Jenkins tested his tender hamstring prior to the game but didn't feel comfortable returning. Muschamp said he is hopeful Jenkins can play against South Carolina.
Once Saturday's game started, several other Gators made their way to the sidelines with injuries. Freshman receiver Latroy Pittman left with an ankle sprain and linebacker Michael Taylor was also hobbled by an ankle injury.
Junior tight end Jordan Reed, who recently suffered a head injury, took a hard hit in the first quarter and did not return until the second half. He finished with two receptions for 14 yards.
Despite all the injuries, senior linebacker Jon Bostic said the team didn't miss a beat.
"We're a lot more comfortable [with our depth],'' Bostic said. "We've got a lot of guys that can kind of step in. We've got a lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions."
Robey was glad to contribute once Harrison went down and was unable to return.
"We expect everybody we put in there to be able to contribute like the first guys,'' Robey said. "It was definitely domino effect at first. We still had two or three guys on the sideline ready to go."
The Gators took over sole possession of the SEC East lead with their win coupled with South Carolina's loss at LSU. The Gamecocks visit The Swamp on Saturday and can move back into a tie with a victory.
While the Gators hope they get most of their injured players back, Robey is confident they have the depth to overcome them if needed.
"Obviously we want everybody healthy all the time,'' Robey said. "Either way, we're going to put five guys on the field and we're going to be ready to go. The resiliency of the team, from a mental standpoint, is a lot different from last year. When it starts getting tight out there, last year we might have folded a little bit.
"This year is a lot different."
Still pouring with sweat after the game, Silberman looked the part of a starting offensive lineman. He had grass on his arms and dirt on his jersey.
In talking about how several players stepped up Saturday, he drew upon the team's mantra when it comes to injuries.
"Man down, man up,'' Silberman said. "I manned up. Robey manned up. Humps [Humphries] manned up. We did what we were supposed to do up front."