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Gators defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and many others have taken on more prominent roles due to injuries.

Monday November 11, 2013Ravaged by Injuries, Gators Seek Relief -- and a Win

Gators defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and many others have taken on more prominent roles due to injuries.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In some nonsensical sort of way, the exchange was comical considering the circumstances.

As Gators coach Will Muschamp stepped away from the dais at his Monday press conference, a reporter tossed one final question his way before Muschamp left the room.

In Saturday’s 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt, Gators receiver Solomon Patton left the game late with an apparent knee injury. Muschamp opened his Monday press conference the way he always does, offering a quick rundown of the last game and of the latest injuries.

Muschamp

On Monday, the big news was that starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is out for the season with a knee injury. Muschamp then dropped the news that starting quarterback Tyler Murphy won’t practice Monday or Tuesday because of his injured shoulder.

As he continued, Muschamp mentioned that reserve linebacker Jeremi Powell is scheduled to have knee surgery this week, and that offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, who has missed the past two games, is doubtful for Saturday’s game at South Carolina, and finally, that cornerback Marcus Roberson should be back at practice Wednesday after hurting an ankle against the Commodores.

No mention of Patton.

These days, whenever Muschamp is talking, you had better ask about injuries.

Fortunately for Florida, Patton is expected to play Saturday when the 4-5 Gators face the No. 12-ranked Gamecocks in their final SEC game of the season.

The season of hurt has three games remaining and losing Morrison, the team’s leading tackler, was just the latest blow to a Gators team that has now lost 10 players to season-ending injuries, including seven starters.

The company line for Muschamp and the players has been not to use the absurd number of injuries as an excuse. Still, it’s gotten to the point where you wonder if Muschamp is going to walk into his press conference with a broken toe from tripping on the sidewalk.

“I felt really good going into the season with where we were,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “Certainly, we’ve not had the results we wanted consistently through the year and that’s been frustrating. I certainly think [injuries] has had an effect, but we’ve got to find ways to get it right.”

There is not a position group that hasn’t been impacted in some way by injury.

Andre Debose, the team’s starting kickoff returner and a receiver, suffered a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. Offensive lineman Chaz Green, who made 10 starts last season, underwent shoulder surgery in fall camp and has missed the season, as has freshman linebacker Matt Rolin, projected to be a reserve. Rolin also went down in fall camp with a season-ending knee injury.

The offensive line has been depleted, too. Only center Jon Harrison and left guard/tackle Max Garcia have started every game. Starting right guard Jon Halapio missed the majority of fall camp and the first two games of the season with a pectoral muscle tear.

Meanwhile, starting right tackle Tyler Moore missed one game due to an ankle injury earlier in the season and is now out for the year with a broken elbow suffered in a scooter accident last week, joining Humphries (knee) on the sideline.

Of course, don’t forget starting quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken fibula) and running back Matt Jones (meniscus tear). Driskel was hurt in the third game of the season and Jones went down in the season’s sixth game. Their injuries came after both missed portions of fall camp, Driskel after an emergency appendectomy and Jones due to a serious viral infection.

Are we missing anyone?

Well, there is Powell, a reserve linebacker and special-teams player who suffered a season-ending knee injury trying to block a punt at Missouri, and freshman defensive back Nick Washington, who injured his shoulder at practice and needed surgery. Washington had made enough of an impact in his short time on campus to play on special teams in the first two games.

Oh, let’s not forget perhaps the most damaging injury of all, a knee injury to senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Less than 72 hours after Driskel was lost for the season against Tennessee, Easley suffered a torn ACL in a non-contact situation at practice.

The Florida defense has not been the same without its emotional leader and All-American candidate.

Muschamp was asked again Monday if he was surprised the impact Easley’s injury has had on the defense.

“I said it when it happened, you don’t replace Dominique Easley,’’ Muschamp said. “It’s not just from a playmaking standpoint -- it’s from a leadership standpoint. It’s the heart of your team. So it’s tough. But we certainly have capable players to come out and play well, and play better than we’ve played in some situations.”

The Gators will continue to monitor Murphy closely as he tries to play through the nagging shoulder injury that has affected his accuracy the past four games.

Murphy is hopeful he can return to practice later in the week to prepare for South Carolina.

“It’s definitely discouraging,’’ Murphy said of the mountain of injuries. “But we don’t look to use that as an excuse. Coach told us at the beginning of the season, “Man down, man up.’ It’s unfortunate we’ve had so many guys go down, but it’s an opportunity for some of the other guys and the younger guys to step up and play and get their feet wet.”

With Murphy sidelined, redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg will take the first-team snaps in practice and likely would start Saturday if Murphy can’t play.

Whether he plays or not, Murphy said the Gators can’t use injuries as a scapegoat.

“When things are going well things are coming easy. When you’re losing and stuff like that, that’s when you kind of see the true character of people,’’ he said. “We feel confident that we can go to South Carolina and win, but it’s not gonna be easy. We’re going to have to probably play our best game of the season.”

That, and avoid another long list of injuries for Muschamp to address after the game.

 

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