The Florida Gators will be without defensive tackles Joey Ivie and Thomas Holley this week when they travel to South Carolina to take on a Gamecock squad that is last in the SEC, but knows they need to win out to go to a bowl game. Ivie had a procedure done on his leg, according to head coach Jim McElwain, and will be out for a couple of weeks. Holley has been dealing with a hip injury that was serious enough for defensive line coach Chris Rumph to comment that even Holley’s presence at practice is a “blessing”
The Gators will also be without Jordan Sherit for the first half on Saturday after he was ejected for targeting late in the game against Vanderbilt. Senior defensive lineman Jon Bullard is dealing with an injury of his own, but is expected to play.
Even with Bullard in the lineup, the Florida Gators defensive front will be a skeleton crew compared to the unit that started the season.
“Absolutely there’s a concern,” McElwain said about the depth on the defensive line. “We’ll see how we handle it.”
Complicating matters for the Gators this week is their opponents experience along the offensive line. South Carolina has enjoyed stability along the line with four offensive linemen starting every game this season at the same position. Left tackle Brandon Shell, left guard Mike Matulis, right guard Will Sport and right tackle Mason Zandi have started all nine games for the Gamecocks. The line is experienced and they’re blocking for a talented running back in Brandon Wilds.
The redshirt senior torched Kentucky for 106 yards on just 16 carries before sustaining an injury against Georgia. Wilds missed the next three tilts before returning to the field against Vanderbilt. Since getting back in the lineup Wilds is averaging 20.3 carries per game for 108.6 yards per game, with an impressive 5.3 yard per carry mark to boot. Wilds has three 100-yard games on the season and his 84.5 yards per game average would rank him seventh in the SEC, ahead of Florida Gators running back Kelvin Taylor.
“[He’s] Really good and we’ve got, guys go watch, just pull up their games,” McElwain said of Wilds and the South Carolina offense. “They’re running up and down the field on people.”
The Gators rush defense is stout, there’s no debating that. Florida ranks fourth in the SEC, allowing just 114.44 yards per game, but how will the defensive line hold up? For most of the season, Florida has been able to rotate up to 11 defensive linemen, which allows the unit to stay fresh throughout the course of the game. It’s something Rumph learned from Nick Saban.
“I was playing those guys and all the sudden the fourth quarter those guys were just dog tired,” Rumph recalled. “[Saban] came and he said, ‘Chris let me tell you something about defensive linemen.’ He said they’re not like the small guys, he said they have one tank of gas and you have to burn that fuel, you have to be smart about how you burn.”
With the injuries to Ivie and Holley Florida will likely ask CeCe Jefferson to play additional snaps inside. Bryan Cox Jr., who has seen an increased role on offense, will also have to make sure he eats his Wheaties in the morning because he too will be asked to play more snaps.
South Carolina is desperate. They’re 3-6 on the season, needing to win the rest of their games to go bowling. They’re eliminated from the SEC East race. They’ve rallied around interim head coach Shawn Elliott and they have a chance to upset the Gators and beat Florida for the fifth time in six seasons.
They have nothing to lose in a season that was lost in early October. That makes them dangerous.