It took three games but the Florida Gators finally had an opportunity to play with their full cast of characters in the secondary against the Kentucky Wildcats. After an offseason spent debating who “DBU” was, the Gators had to try and prove their case without a full deck of cards.
Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal missed the first game. Vernon Hargreaves and Neal were absent in week two but the band was back together and the result was a season low 126 yards allowed through the air.
Heading into their biggest game of the season and the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-0 SEC) the Gators will, yet again, be without at least one member of the secondary. Sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor will miss the game Saturday with Jim McElwain citing “choices” that the young corner made leading up to the game.
“On another note guys, based on some choices of a couple of guys — they chose not to play in this ballgame,” he said. “Jalen Tabor and Treon Harris won’t be with us this week, which simply means we’ve got to have some guys step up.”
The Gators will miss Tabor’s playmaking ability. His pick-six against Kentucky turned out to be the difference in a close ball game, but the Gators will still have Vernon Hargreaves and Quincy Wilson playing outside at corner. Hargreaves has started both games that he’s played in this season and Wilson has started all three games this year.
Talent is not the issue on Saturday, it will be depth.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Florida Gators traveled to Columbia, Missouri for the first time and saw the course of the game change on the very first play. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk launched a pass down the sideline towards L’Damian Washington for a 41-yard gain. Safety Cody Riggs launched his body into Washington and was promptly ejected from the contest. The Gators never recovered, Mauk went on to throw for 295 yards in his first career start and the Tigers rolled to a 36-17 win.
A play like that this week against Tennessee and the Gators will be up the creek without a paddle. It’s something that the Florida coaching staff has been teaching all off season and they continue to teach proper tackling form as an “EDD” or “every day drill.”
“It’s a tackling drill we do every single week as far as how to properly tackle, keep your head out,” McElwain said. “I think it’s a great rule, No. 1. I think guys are getting used to it. I thought that first year some guys weren’t used to it. I think now they’re really good. I think the officials have a great handle on exactly what it is. That’s part of the game.”
Starting at cornerback, Wilson and Hargreaves are more than capable of holding their own, but behind them is just one more corner — redshirt freshman Deiondre Porter, who has played in every game this season but mainly on special teams. After Porter, true freshman Chris Williamson is the next man up. Williamson has not played this season and appears to be heading for a redshirt.
With so little depth at cornerback, don’t expect to see Wilson or Hargreaves tapping on the top of their helmet for water breaks, there’s no time for water this week.
At nickel, Brian Poole will be fine in his normal role, backed up by sophomore Duke Dawson. Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye will start at safety and Marcell Harris will rotate in when Florida goes into the dime.
The talent is there, but the Florida Gators secondary is just a targeting penalty away from having to answer some serious questions on Saturday against Tennessee.