Coach Urban Meyer left practice Thursday evening hoping to hear some good news about junior middle linebacker Brandon Siler. Siler sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his knee at practice Wednesday and the news wasn’t very good Thursday afternoon as the Gators wrapped up their preparation for Saturday’s game with South Carolina.
“Brandon Siler is very questionable for the game,” said Meyer. “He has a knee sprain. It happened yesterday at practice and it’s a little worse than they thought. He actually didn’t practice today. I’m going to find out how he’s doing … that’s one tough dude.”
Siler is second on the team to Earl Everett with 54 tackles including nine for 36 yards in losses. He has three sacks, has forced a fumble and recovered one.
Meyer said that there is a chance Siler, a 6-2, 235-pounder from Orlando, will be able to play Saturday. The injury is to the MCL and not the ACL so there is hope that the long term prognosis will be good.
“His ACL is solid, it’s the MCL injury,” said Meyer, who said a special brace has been ordered for Siler in the event that he can go Saturday.
Asked if it would be tough keeping Siler out of the game, Meyer said, “He’ll be like a caged animal. He is already.”
If Siler can’t go, his place in the lineup will be taken by freshman Brandon Spikes, who has seen the field regularly both on the defensive unit and on special teams. Spikes has six tackles and he’s broken up a pass.
“Brandon Spikes is ready to play,” said Meyer.
Because South Carolina runs three and four-wide sets quite often, the Gators figure to be in nickel and dime packages quite often, so Spikes won’t have to play every down.
“We’re going to play some dime stuff so Earl [Everett] could play that position,” said Meyer. “That’s not the problem. The problem is when we’re in a two or three linebacker set.”
Meyer said there is a lot of confidence that the 6-4, 240-pound Spikes can get the job done.
“I think he’s really ready,” said Meyer. “He’s practiced well. Every week we talk about that he’s a guy that should play more than he does. He’s really ready. He loves football and he’s going to prepare well. I think there’s a lot of confidence. I know Charlie Strong has a lot of confidence in him.”
The other news on the injury front was much more promising. Reggie Lewis looks like he’ll be 100 percent by Saturday. Meyer said that wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius and center Steve Rissler are both good to go and he expects all of his dinged up offensive linemen to be ready to play Saturday. Florida’s hobbled players will get somewhat of a break Friday because there is no class so they’ll be able to sleep in late and get more treatment.
That’s particularly good for Rissler and guards Jim Tartt and Drew Miller, whom Meyer said “didn’t play very well last week because they were pretty worn out.” Tartt has a sprained ankle while Miller has a strained Achilles tendon and a sprained ankle.
The news on wide receiver Percy Harvin was the best it’s been in awhile. Harvin’s high ankle sprain, suffered in game three against Tennessee, seems to have finally healed.
“He’s telling me he’s feeling his best since Central Florida,” said Meyer. Against UCF, Harvin ran two times for 11 yards and caught four passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. On the season, the freshman from Virginia Beach, Virginia has caught 11 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown and run for 195 yards on 22 attempts.
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The Gators may not need to win Saturday to win the SEC East Division championship but Meyer says there is still plenty to play for.
“There are a lot of schools in the state, a lot of schools in the SEC that are playing I guess just to finish the season so don’t ever take that for granted,” he said. “You have a tendency to say this isn’t Tennessee, this isn’t Georgia, this isn’t FSU which everybody says are our big rivals but it’s a chance to play in The Swamp. It’s a chance to win our ninth game, a chance to get some revenge on South Carolina and they kind of broke our hearts last year and we didn’t play very well. There’s a lot riding on this.”
Florida has won all 11 games at The Swamp in the Urban Meyer era. The Gators have a 13-game home winning streak going into the game.
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Following the loss to South Carolina last year, the Gators had a team meeting on the plane as it sat on the tarmac at the airport where things got rather interesting. The team had to make some tough decisions that night but when they left the plane, a lot of things changed.
“That was awful,” said Meyer. “I can’t think of a worse moment than that. We went through a lot. Someday in about 40 years I’m going to write a book in my last stages so I can write it and disappear. There were a lot of things going on. There were a lot of interesting things being said that night and we became a better team. Obviously, we played two very good games after that day. I would say that was the beginning of the University of Florida becoming somewhat unselfish from that point on. I saw a little bit of that unselfishness after that.”
Since that team meeting, the Gators have a 10-1 record.