Florida hosts Texas A&M on Saturday, but the Gators could be without a handful of starters. Literally.
Head coach Jim McElwain confirmed Monday that wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, safety Chauncey Gardner, guard Brett Heggie, and linebacker Jeremiah Moon will not practice today. Cleveland missed Florida’s 17-16 loss to LSU with an ankle injury.
Safety Nick Washington has already been ruled out for Texas A&M after aggravating a shoulder injury.
Additionally, freshman Kadarius Toney is “highly questionable” for Saturday with a shoulder injury of his own. Toney has rushed 12 times for 118 yards and a touchdown and caught 11 passes for 107 yards on the year.
“You’re going to see down some guys, but at the same time, we’re going to have some guys step up,” McElwain said.
Florida is 3-2 on the year and 1-1 in SEC play after last week’s loss. The Texas A&M game represents a turning point outing to see if the Gators — or anyone, for that matter — will challenge No. 4 Georgia for SEC East supremacy. Florida faces the Bulldogs in Jacksonville after a bye week on Oct. 28.
Not surprisingly, Florida will be without its most productive weapon in the passing game this weekend.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Tyrie Cleveland would likely miss UF’s Week 6 game against LSU this weekend because of a high-ankle sprain suffered in the Week 5 win over Vanderbilt. Wednesday, Jim McElwain confirmed the expected by officially ruling the wide receiver out.
It wasn’t, though, for lack of effort on Cleveland’s part that he’ll be sidelined.
“To this guy’s credit he was in there working his tail off trying to get back to play,” the head coach said. “It’s one of those deals when you go through that, he’d do anything to go out and get on the field.”
Because the injury is the dreaded high-ankle variety, it’s unclear how many additional games Cleveland may or may not miss.
Cleveland currently leads the Gators in receptions (15), receiving yards (326), receiving touchdowns (two) and yards per catch (21.7). Kadarius Toney‘s 11 catches for 107 yards are next on the team; in fact, he’s the only other Gator with double digits in receptions and triple digits in yards through four games.
A week after being steamrolled at home by Alabama, Vanderbilt appears to be much more competitive this week on the road against Florida with the teams tied 17-17 at halftime. If Florida is going to avoid taking a loss at home, the hopes may have to be placed in the hands of quarterback Feleipe Franks after Luke Del Rio headed off to the locker room a few minutes before halftime with a trainer.
After three back-and-forth three-and-outs to start the game by both offenses, Florida finally got the ball rolling with a 10-play touchdown drive capped by Lamical Perine scoring the first rushing touchdown by a Gators running back in a year. But Vanderbilt answered with a touchdown drive of their own. The Commodores marched 75 yards in seven plays with Kyle Shurmur completing a 13-yard pass to Kalija Lipscomb for the game-tying score.
The teams again exchanged touchdown drives a few possessions later to keep the game tight at 14-14. Vanderbilt took the 17-14 lead with a 42-yard field goal by Tommy Openshaw in the final minute of the half.
After taking over the offense, Franks tossed a deep ball down the field to Tyrie Cleveland for a 49-yard gain, but the Gators could not get in the end zone from a 1st and Goal from the nine-yard line in the time remaining in the half. The Gators settled for a field goal to tie the game heading to halftime.
Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall stood tall as the symbol of the Iron Curtain, a ball snuck past Bill Buckner to help the New York Mets win a World Series and gas prices were shockingly under a dollar per gallon. Much has changed in the ensuing three decades since 1986 but one constant has remained no matter what: Florida beating Kentucky in football.
So it continued on Saturday night.
The Wildcats came heartbreakingly close to ending their ignominious losing streak — the fourth longest in FBS history — at an even 30, but gave up two late fourth quarter touchdown drives to fall to their SEC rival Gators 28-27 in the most improbable of fashions.
While the streak has weighed heavily on Kentucky football as it stretched on and on, it felt like this was finally — finally! — the time that the Wildcats could come out on top as the home team played loose but disciplined on both sides of the ball nearly all night long to be firmly in control of this one. Quarterback Stephen Johnson proved to be a revelation behind center, throwing for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Benny Snell added another 59 yards for good measure and the team held the lead for just the fourth time in the final quarter during the streak.
But it didn’t matter, as Kentucky proved why they have been on the losing end of this series so many times over so many years.
UF wideout Tyrie Cleveland was the lone burst of offense late in the first half, helping turn a potential run-away into a tie game by catching a wide open touchdown pass from 45 yards out. He later setup another Gators’ score off a trick play that cut the lead to six midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Luke Del Rio, who eventually entered the game late in the second half, led two touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes that included the game-winning pass to an open Freddie Swain in the corner. Appropriately, Kentucky had just 10 men on the field at the time to further twist the knife for a fan base that was once again left wondering how exactly that happened (again).
The Wildcats nearly drove the length of the field to set up a late field goal but a questionable holding call pushed them out of range and Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yarder came up short to once again put the team on the wrong side of history.
Florida remains afloat in the SEC East after the victory and now moves to 51-17 all-time against UK on the gridiron. Something says that latest edition to the series remains one of the most improbable though.
It has not been a great day overall for showcasing the power of the SEC East but at least the division could see one of the longest losing streaks in the country come to an end as Kentucky is locked into a tight game with No. 20 Florida 14-all at halftime in a fun atmosphere in Lexington.
The Wildcats generally looked like the sharper of the two teams offensively, racking up nearly six yards per play and scoring on both of their trips into the red zone. The latter of those two touchdowns, a beautiful Stephen Johnson pass to the corner of the end zone and into the hands of Garrett Johnson, was setup by a long punt return from Charles Walker that setup a short field and gave the team another brief lead. Johnson — Stephen that is, the quarterback of the two above — finished with 100 yards through the air and two scores going into the locker room.
Florida would not go quietly into the night with that 30 game win streak against the ‘Cats on the line though. Feleipe Franks was surprisingly solid as a passer when he wasn’t met with a hand in his face and finished with 7-of-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown. Most of that yardage and the score came as time was winding down in the second quarter and the Gators were facing a 4th-and-short from midfield. Not content to just run the ball, the team instead opted to throw it… to a wide open Tyrie Cleveland for a 45-yard score after nobody covered him as part of a defensive miscommunication.
A Vosean Joseph targeting call on the ensuing drive cost the Gators their starting linebacker and nearly gave UK a chance to take the lead but their long field goal attempt from 48 yards out hit the upright.
Could this finally, finally… finally be the time Kentucky beats Florida? The early returns are that the Wildcats will certainly have a fighting chance in the second half in what could be a huge SEC upset.