When Florida released their depth chart for the matchup against Vanderbilt, there were a couple of surprises. Running back Trevor Etienne and left tackle Austin Barber were listed as “questionable” on the injury report. Additionally, center Kingsley Eguakun was still listed as questionable. This means that the Florida run game, which is still trying to find its rhythm, may not have their best options available against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Vanderbilt’s rushing defense is ranked 85th in the nation, allowing an average of 147.8 yards per game. This presents an opportunity for Florida to have success on the ground. However, it may be more challenging given the potential absence of key players for the Gators.
If Barber and Eguakun are unable to play, it will only exacerbate the continuity issues along the offensive line that have plagued Florida since the spring. This would mark Florida’s fourth different starting offensive line this season. In the absence of Barber, Lyndell Hudson would start at left tackle, and if Eguakun is sidelined, Jake Slaughter would likely make his fourth start of the season at center.
“I do think continuity is important in that unit. If you can have the same five in the same roles and there can be chemistry — there’s a lot of communication. There’s a ton of work relative to the combination blocks, things happen fast in there. One of the things that we’ve lacked so far this year is continuity up front,” Napier said this week. “We do have some tough guys that have been banged up, maybe been limited throughout the week but have played and showed some toughness and grit.”
In addition to the injuries, guard Micah Mazzccua and tackle Damieon George were suspended for the first half of the Charlotte game. This was a result of a scuffle that occurred late in the game against Tennessee.
“We’re hopeful that at some point here we can settle in and these guys can get healthy and we can have some continuity up front,” Napier said. “I do think that can benefit our team.”
Florida does have the advantage of playing Vanderbilt this week, considering the issues mentioned. However, this advantage may be limited due to continuity problems along the offensive line and the potential loss of one of the offense’s best weapons, running back Trevor Etienne.
Etienne is currently leading the Gators in rushing this season, having carried the ball 60 times for 358 yards and two touchdowns. While he hasn’t earned a start, Etienne leads the team in carries and yards.
If Etienne is unable to play, it would mean a heavier workload for junior Montrell Johnson and freshman Treyaun Webb in order to improve the rushing offense. Currently, the Gators’ rushing offense ranks 81st in the country, averaging 154.6 yards per game. This falls far short of the expectations many had for the Gators’ ground attack this season.
“If that happens I’m preparing for it. It doesn’t matter who gets the ball. I’m preparing for it,” Montrell Johnson said. “If Trevor can’t go I trust the coaches to put me in the right plays. If that means more carries, I’m ready for it.”
It seemed like Florida would have the opportunity to establish a strong ground game against one of the nation’s weakest rush defenses. However, now the feasibility of this may hinge on Florida’s ability to do so without key players.
Photo credit: Molly Kaiser, UAA Communications