Well any summary or review of the 2013 Florida Gator football season must begin and end with the injuries (and have a lot in the middle about them as well). So let’s just dive into it. And let’s do it quantitatively. This is important because when you have a season when injuries mount and exceed a point of absurdity, it can create a numbness. This numbness can make it easier to forget just how many players were injured, as certainly happened throughout the past season to Gator fans. But by the same token, the numbness can also lead fans to exaggerate in their memory the number of the injuries; fans can become so shell-shocked by the magnitude of the impact that they remember far more injuries that actually occurred.
So let’s not leave it up to visceral memory. Let’s detail it for accurate posterity. It is important to chronicle the true tally; after all there will only be one 2013. Thank goodness. In Part I, I will look at the offensive side of the ball, and conclude with the accounting of the defensive injury woes in Part II.
1. Roll Call
Line ‘em up, count ‘em off. That’s the only way to get to the bottom of a list this long. Only one position was unaffected by injury on the offense this year: fullback. Incidentally, it is the only position on the entire team that was not impacted by either injury or game time missed by ejection for what was consensus among fans (and certainly coaches) to be terrible targeting calls. Here is the offense’s body count, and other missed time, by position:
Quarterbacks: (3) Jeff Driskel was lost for the season early in the Tennessee game to a broken fibula, missing 9 games and most of a 10th. Tyler Murphy was lost to an AC sprain (the acromioclavicular joint in the shoulder) after the Vanderbilt game, an injury he had played with for most of four games before it got bad enough to sideline him for the balance of the year, 3 games. Though Skyler Mornhinweg started the final 3 games, and Trey Burton spent the first 11 games as a starting wide receiver, for the FSU game he was slated to get the bulk of the snaps as a wildcat quarterback. He of course was lost to a shoulder injury on his second carry, one play following a 50-yard run that may have signaled one of his signature explosion games – such that we hadn’t seen for a few years. Though only one game, it constituted being lost for the season.
Running Backs: (3) Matt Jones missed the opener against Toledo still too ill from his viral illness to play. He played in the next 5 games still ailing and playing at partial speed from his illness, starting 4 of them, before being lost for the season – another 6 games – to a torn meniscus. Mack Brown, between starting the Toledo game and the Missouri game, injured his ankle and missed a significant part of the LSU game, along with Jones. Contributing backup Valdez Shower suffered an ankle injury in the Miami game and missed the Tennessee and Kentucky games.
Wide Receivers: (3) The season started off poorly for this unit, with starter and only proven deep threat on the team Andre Debose tearing his ACL in the preseason and missing the entire year. Starter Solomon Patton was re-bitten by the injury bug in the Vanderbilt game, missing much of that contest with a knee tweak. And backup Demarcus Robinson was lost to suspension for the final 3 games of the season.
Tight End: (1) Colin Thompson suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the Tennessee game and was lost for the balance of the season, 9 games. Though he started the season as a backup, he was expected to emerge as the much-needed dual-threat blocking/catching tight end in this offense.
Offensive Line: (6) The season started out rough for this unit and just kept getting worse. Before the opener kicked off, starting right tackle Chaz Green was already lost for the season with a torn labrum, and starting right guard Jon Halapio was lost for the first 2 games with a torn pectoral muscle, an injury that plagued him the rest of the season. To make matters worse, he had to sit out part of the Tennessee game after being poked in the eye. The Tennessee game was brutal on the Gators’ health this year. Jonotthan Harrison was one of the rare starting linemen to survive the season to play every game, and the only one to start each game at the same position. But the starting center still missed part of the Miami game with an unspecified injury and the majority of the LSU game thanks to taking offense to a horrific officiating blunder, and being ejected for it. Starting left guard Max Garcia also missed part of the Miami game with an undisclosed injury, though he was fortunate not to miss time later in the year with vertigo, as he had to switch starting positions four different times. Starting left tackle DJ Humphries, after missing portions of multiple games in the first half of the season with a nagging injury, ultimately sprained him MCL in the Missouri game and was lost for the remainder of the year. Last but not least there was Tyler Moore, the starter at right tackle due to Chaz Green’s injury. After twisting his ankle which knocked him out of the Miami game and caused him to sit out the Tennessee game, Tyler suffered a broken right arm after playing his best game of the year against Georgia – gone for the season.
The Totals: After wearing the calculator keys to the bone, here is the final tally:
Total injured players: 15
Total injured starters: 13
Total players missing significant game time: 16
Total players lost to season-ending injuries: 10
Total starters lost to season-ending injuries: 8
Total combined games missed: 74.5
Total combined games missed by starters: 60.5
Benchmarking: Throughout the season, there has been a bit of a tug of war in some factions of Gator Nation over which season was the true testament to the abilities of Coach Muschamp and his staff: 2012 or 2013. So throughout this accounting and analysis of the “injury situation” of the past season, I will compare it to what happened last year when the staff led a “broken program” to 11 wins after just one year of carpentry. So, looking back at last year’s injury report I must admit to not having kept as minute a detail as this year. I did not keep track of any injuries that caused players to miss significant parts of a game. I can just go by the injury reports that held players out of entire games. So to have a fair comparison, you’d have to omit the small fraction of the 2013 injuries that only affected a portion of a game for a starter or two.
So in 2013, there were “only” 10 starters on offense that missed the equivalent of an entire game, and 9 who missed every down of one of more games. In 2012, there were 5: Xavier Nixon (2), James Wilson (2), Chaz Green (2), Jeff Driskel (1), Andre Debose (4). Here is a comparison of just the full-game injury impact on the starters:
Total injured starters: 2013 (9); 2012 (5)
Total starters lost to season-ending injuries: 2013 (8); 2012 (0)
Total combined games missed by starters: 2013 (57); 2012 (11)
2. Disruption, Displacement and Juggling
Another way to measure the impact of injuries on a team is the churn. Both by position and by player. How many different players had to start at each position due to injury, and how many different positions each player had to play due to injury. The latter is difficult when, for instance switching from left tackle to right tackle, and made worse when the shift is more significant like moving from guard to tackle. The numbers resulting in a churn analysis will be smaller than total missing starters because it only measures personnel changes due to in-season injuries or preseason injuries to players who return to the lineup. Thus the numerous preseason injuries for Florida that knocked players out for the whole year will not show up here.
Let’s first look at the positions which starters were impacted by in-season injuries (which leaves out tight end, wide receiver and fullback), and how many players started at each position. After the tallies I indicated the percentage of games started by the most regular starter per position. This is an indicator of the stability of each starting spot in the lineup.
Quarterback: 3 (Murphy 6, Driskel 3, Mornhinweg 3) 50%
Running Back: 3 (Taylor 5, Jones 5, Brown 2) 42%
Left Tackle: 3 (Humphries 6, Garcia 5, Moore 1) 50%
Left Guard: 3 (Garcia 7, Silberman 3, Koehne 2) 58%
Center: 1 (Harrison) 100%
Right Guard: 2 (Halapio 10, Koehne 2) 83%
Right Tackle: 3 (Moore 5, Brown 5, Koehne 2) 42%
Now compare those to the same spots in 2012:
Quarterback: 2 (Driskel 12, Brissett 1) 92%
Running Back: 3 (Gillislee 11, Jones 1, Hines 1) 85%
Left Tackle: 2 (Nixon 11, Humphries 2) 85%
Left Guard: 2 (Wilson 11, Silberman 2) 85%
Center: 1 (Harrison) 100%
Right Guard: 1 (Halapio) 100%
Right Tackle: 2 (Green 10, Koehne 3) 77%
While the number of starters per position is higher in 2013 for almost every spot on the offense, it is only by 1 body each. The wide disparity comes when you look at the division of the games. The primary starter in 2012 played at least 10 games at every position. All started over 75% of the games, just missing a game or two here or there with minor injuries. And never were primary starters at one position forced to play out of position in another spot. Contrast that to 2013, where only 2 starters played more than 58% of the games at their natural position. Starters at 4 of the 7 positions affected by in-season injuries played 50% or less of the games at their primary starting spot. Moore and Garcia both started at two different positions and Koehne – who was never projected to start this year – started at three different spots.
Another important facet of a successful offense is continuity along the offensive line. The ability to line up the same five starters game after game, snap after snap, is perhaps the biggest key to developing the line, with any talent level. In 2013, the Gators had to use 7 different starting offensive line combinations in 12 games. In 2012, they were forced to use 5 different OL lineups in 13 games. Again, while the numbers are only two apart, the disparity is much wider when you look at the continuity factor. In 2012, the Gator staff was able to use their original starting five for 7 games. The second most frequent starting combination was used 3 times. The other three were used just once apiece. The original starting 5 were used in 54% of the games. Contrast that to 2013, when the original starting 5 was never used, due to Chaz Green being lost for the season before the year began. The staff planned to first try Koehne at right tackle in place of Green, but due to Halapio’s injury, that planned starting lineup didn’t debut until Game 3, and only lasted for 2 games. In all, the 7 starting OL lineups were used for the following number of games each: 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1 and 1. The most frequent OL combination could only be used 25% of the year. And it was in fact the last option the staff wanted: the lineup for the last 3 games – the only five linemen left standing.
3. Pulling The Rug Out From Under
Finally, when assessing how injuries impacted a season (and by extension, how the coaching staff performed), it is important at look at what starting lineup they staff intended to work with, what lineup they ultimately had to start with, and what lineup they eventually had to finish with.
Now with the 2013 Gators, this will not account for much of the perpetual impact throughout the season, but it will give us a good picture of how the rug was pulled out from under the coaching staff by the injury bug.
Counting two wide receiver positions and a fullback, the Gators started the season in Game one with four different starters than they were projecting. That’s 36% of the planned starting offense out of action to start the season. The missing starters were RB Matt Jones, WR Andre Debose, RT Chaz Green and RG Jon Halapio. Making things worse, one starter – Max Garcia – was forced by injuries to start the season playing out of position.
Then by the last game of the season, the Gators had five more new starters different from the opening game. Most were players that they had not planned on filling starting roles. This time, QB Jeff Driskel, OT Tyler Moore, RG Kyle Koehne, LT D.J. Humphries and RB Mack Brown were replaced. While Brown was replaced not due to injury but due to being passed on the depth chart, and Koehne was bumped by the return of Jon Halapio (though he started at two other spots during the season), at least Max Garcia was back at his natural position by the end of the year.
Compare that to 2012. Last year, the Gators started the season with the exact starting 11 on offense that were projected and planned all fall. They also finished the season with that same starting 11.
But there is more to this angle than mere dizziness of rotating bodies in 2013. Experience was lost each step of the way. A lot of it. From the projected starting lineup to the opening day starters, the Gator offense lost a total of 57 starts. That is the difference in the experience level of the projected lineup and the opening day starters on offense this year. The gap was 48 starts on the offensive line alone. By the end of the year, that drop from the team the staff projected to field this year actually improved on that number, but it was still dismal. While they lost 12 more starts when Driskel went down, they added 33 more starts to the lineup with the return of Halapio (though he played the balance of the season with a torn pec). The final tally was a loss of 40 starts from the projected 2013 Gator offense and the final 2013 Gator offense. However, due to other losses, the total game experience at the end of the season – starting or backup – ballooned from minus-21 on opening day to a minus-49 over the planned 2013 starting offense.
The 2012 Gator offense suffered zero lost starts and zero total games of experience lost from the projected starting lineup to the opening day lineup to the bowl game starters.
Looking Ahead To Part II
Those are pretty damning numbers when stacked up like this. However, this is only half the story. In Part II, we’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball. At least it can’t be worse than the impact that injuries had on the offensive.