The most serious injury came to Florida tight end Jake McGee. The post-grad transfer elected to play his final year of eligibility in Gainesville after playing as an undergrad at Virginia. McGee was rolled up by offensive guard Trenton Brown in the second quarter, and it was obvious from the start that it wasn’t good.
Trainers came on the field to look at the situation, but they immediately signaled for help. Other staff members brought out an air cast to stabilize his leg, and he was carted off the field. McGee was officially diagnosed with a broken tibia and fibula. He will miss the remainder of the season.
“I’m so disappointed for him,” Will Muschamp said. “A guy that came in here, and it’s very difficult to come into a situation for one year. He has done it as well as you can imagine. It’s always concerning for me -- because I know what that locker room is like and I know where we are -- to bring someone from the outside. This guy is a total team guy, tough guy.”
Left tackle D.J. Humphries will miss 2-3 weeks with a chip on the bone in his ankle. Muschamp emphasized that it’s not serious and won’t require surgery. They will have more information on Sunday. Freshman David Sharpe stepped in and played in his absence. Florida could slide Chaz Green to left tackle and move Rod Johnson into the starting lineup at right tackle.
Running back Adam Lane wasn’t with the team on Saturday because of a family situation that came up Thursday night. Muschamp encouraged him to go home to his hometown of Winter Haven.
“He’ll be back with us,” Muschamp said. “There’s no issues there.”
TURNOVERS THE KEY: The Gators forced five turnovers on Saturday and didn’t turn the ball over once. It’s that recipe that led Florida to a BCS bowl in 2012, and it’s always the focus of the coaching staff.
“We emphasize it and do the best job I’ve been around, as far as from a defensive staff emphasizing it, here that’s better than I did when I was a defensive coordinator,” Muschamp said. “Those guys do a really good job.”
Talent on the defensive side of the ball helps, as does some luck. But the defense also needs players with a nose for the football and an understanding of when to take some chances and go for the ball when it’s in the air or going for the strip when the player is still up.
“You’ve also got to have guys that understand when the tackle’s secured, take a shot at the ball,” Muschamp said. “Get the ball out. We have some of those guys that are able to do that.”
BALL STEALS THE SHOW: Florida’s best player on defense Saturday was senior Neiron Ball. He tied for the team lead with six tackles, adding 2.5 tackles for a loss with two sacks, one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry.
“Neiron is a very good football player and can really play well in space as far as a linebacker,” Muschamp said. “He has good off-the-ball instincts.”
The coaches raved about his pass rushing ability in fall camp, but that wasn’t as evident on the field in the last three seasons. He showed it on Saturday. The Gators know they’ll face opposing offensive lines that slide the protection to Dante Fowler’s side. The hope is that at least one player can emerge to make plays on the opposite end of the line.
On Saturday, Ball showed he can do that.
“He’s a very good pass rusher,” Muschamp said. “We can get him in some matchup situations. People are going to slide the protections to Dante (Fowler), so we can get him on the back against a tight end. That would be advantageous for us.”
HARRIS STEALS THE SHOW: When Jeff Driskel came out of the game and Treon Harris took over, Muschamp wanted a conversation with Kurt Roper. He told the first-year offensive coordinator to keep the foot on the gas. They wanted to get Harris as many game reps as possible, and Muschamp didn’t want them to come with him just handing off the football.
With the conservative reputation Muschamp has developed, that may come as a surprise to many. The decision paid off, and Harris ended his first career game 2-2 through the air for 148 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a deep ball thrown perfectly over the shoulder of Demarcus Robinson for a 70-yard touchdown pass.
The second one came on a shorter throw to Mark Herndon on a seam route for a 78-yard touchdown, but the former walk-on running back did most of the work after the catch. Harris put both throws on the money and let the playmakers do the rest.
“He needs more and more of those reps, more and more of those opportunities to go in and play the game,” Muschamp said of Harris.
KICKER RESPONSIBILITIES: Muschamp said the goal is for Frankie Velez to kick field goals when the ball is on the 25-yard line or closer to the end zone. Any field goals from the 26-yard line to the 35-yard line will be given to Austin Hardin, who also handled kickoff duties since he has the stronger leg of the two.
However, Hardin put two kickoffs out of bounds, drawing the frustration of Muschamp. It will be a focus in practice this week.
“We just can’t give up that kind of field position as the games move forward,” Muschamp said.