GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The next two weeks might not result in much excitement among Florida fans or even players, but there’s no doubt that two upcoming games against weak nonconference opponents are just what the Gators need right now.
Six starters and two key special teams players are among nine players who either missed Saturday’s victory over Missouri or suffered injuries during the game. None of the injuries appear to be particularly serious, and there’s plenty of time for those players to rest in the next two weeks so they can be completely healthy for the Nov. 24 regular-season finale at rival Florida State.
But if some can't play against the Seminoles, UF coach Will Muschamp isn’t worried. He has watched his team overcome injuries all season, and do it well enough to be 8-1 overall and 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
"There’s no one that can question the resolve of that locker room," Muschamp said. "The adversity, the different guys that go down in the game and the guys that man down and man up ... It hasn’t always been pretty, but I believe we’re the 12th team in UF history to win seven games and that’s a credit to those players. It’s a credit to buying in, to hanging together, to facing adversity, to facing a tough schedule.
"The effort and the attitude and the resolve of the football team is as good as I’ve been around."
LT Xavier Nixon (knee) and buck LB Lerentee McCray (ankle) were game-day decisions, and Muschamp said he held them out because he believed they needed more rest. WR/KR Andre Debose suffered a slight knee injury in practice last Thursday and didn’t play against the Tigers. K Caleb Sturgis suffered an ankle injury late last week and attempted a field goal (it was blocked) before giving way to Brad Phillips.
LG James Wilson (knee) left the game for a while but returned. RG Jon Halapio left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury but said on Facebook late Saturday night that he was fine. S Matt Elam left the field on the final drive after suffering what Muschamp said was a strained groin.
Backup RB Mack Brown also suffered an undisclosed injury and was using crutches after the game. FB Hunter Joyer appeared to injure his left knee after he tripped over teammate Omarius Hines, who had fallen to the ground after chest-bumping another teammate in celebration of Hines’ 36-yard TD run.
Florida will play host to Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3) of the Sun Belt Conference next weekend and FCS team Jacksonville State (5-4) on Nov. 17. It’s part of a schedule the school has worked out to ensure seven home games each season for financial reasons. The Gators make $15M-$20M annually from seven home games and don’t want to give up one of those home games to play a home-and-home series against another school.
The formula includes playing two lower-division FBS schools and one FCS school each season. The two lower-division opponents are usually scheduled for the beginning of the season and the FCS opponent scheduled for the week between the final SEC game and the FSU game, but that wasn’t the case this year because of the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. UF opened against Bowling Green but played at Texas A&M in the second game instead of playing the second lower-division FBS opponent.
UF’s SEC schedule ended with Missouri on Nov. 3, which left two dates between that game and the FSU game.
It’s likely going to result in a lot of empty seats at Florida Field -- especially with early afternoon starts -- but it also will allow Muschamp to rest his injured players and get some young ones more playing time and experience -- especially on the offensive line, where quality depth has been a problem for the past two seasons.
""You never want to see that but we have just as much faith in the guys backing them up," RT Chaz Green said of the situation with injured starters. "We’re a close group. Everyone does everything together so we’re real strong that everybody will pull through. We have the utmost faith in those guys."