Florida Gators football players like quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Mike Gillislee, linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam get plenty of notoriety throughout the season, but what about the players that make it possible for those guys to make big plays?
With that in mind, GatorCountry.com has compiled a list of the Top 5 Unsung Heroes on the Florida football team this season. Their roles are every bit as crucial as any player on the roster.
The No. 10 Gators (4-0 overall, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) host No. 4 LSU (5-0, 1-0 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcast nationally by CBS.
Here are the players to watch between all of those big passes, runs and tackles:
1) Hunter Joyer. The sophomore fullback is a major force behind Gillislee being the SEC’s second-leading rusher with an average 100.5 yards per game. Joyer’s a bruising blocker who took out three defenders on a 23-yard touchdown run by Gillislee in a 20-17 win at Texas A&M on Sept. 8. Joyer is used as a bullish runner in short-yardage situations and even hauled in his first two career catches for 10 yards this season. He has not had much room to run on his two carries for one yard, but expect Joyer to break loose a big gain soon. He has never had a rush for negative yards during his career.
2) Solomon Patton. He often is the forgotten man in the Gators’ passing game with players such as Frankie Hammond Jr., Quinton Dunbar and Jordan Reed catching most of the attention, but opposing defenses certainly keep tabs on where No. 83 is anytime he steps on the field. Although he only has one catch for 17 yards this season, he’s still a deep threat because of his indomitable speed. He also has seven carries for 71 yards. That’s 10.1 yards per attempt when he blazes around the edge on jet sweeps. It’s something defenses must account for, and helps open up other runs to have success.
3) Omarius Hines. Like Patton, few talk about Hines’ presence when discussing Florida’s passing game. However, he’s fourth on the team with six catches for 92 yards, including a 52-yarder in a 38-0 win against Kentucky on Sept. 22 and a 39-yarder that set up the key touchdown run by Gillislee against the Aggies that’s mentioned above. Hines, who also has five carries for 13 yards, creates mismatch problems for defenses. He’s as strong and big as a linebacker (listed at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds), but is too fast for most linebackers to try to cover. That’s why he’s been able to spring open for a few big plays.
4) Kyle Christy. The sophomore has such a strong leg that the late Bruce Lee would have been jealous. He’s flipped field position for the Gators several times and is averaging 45.4 yards per punt, which is third in the SEC. He has punted 17 times for 771 yards, including a season-long 55-yarder from his own end zone at Tennessee. Only five of his punts have been returned for a total of four yards. His high-arching, deep punts allow the coverage plenty of time to get down the field. That has limited opponents to less than a yard (0.8) per punt return, which also is third best in the SEC.
5) Mike Taylor. Though not a starter, Taylor’s play has been instrumental in every game this season. He has helped fill in, along with true freshman Antonio Morrison, at weak-side linebacker after starter Jelani Jenkins broke his right thumb during the opening drive at Texas A&M. The sophomore has 14 tackles, including six solo stops, and a sack for a loss of nine yards when he blitzed Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The sack put the Aggies out of field goal range with 20 seconds remaining in the first half. Florida won the game by a field goal. He also had an interception late in the first half against Kentucky that helped preserve the team’s first SEC shutout in more than a decade.
If we handed out an honorable mention on this list, it would have to go to nose tackle Omar Hunter for his improved play this season. He probably should be on this list. However, it is for “Unsung Heroes,” so we took Hunter out of consideration because he was named the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after his career-high eight tackles and a pass breakup against Kentucky.