Injuries shaping the SEC East landscape

Injuries shaping the SEC East landscape

October 23rd, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with reporters during the SEC football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Less than a week into preseason camp at Florida, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel had his appendix removed, starting tailback Matt Jones developed a stomach virus and veteran receiver and kickoff returner Andre Debose suffered a season-ending ACL tear.

The bad news never stopped.

Hoping to match or at least challenge last year's 11-win accomplishment, the Gators were never given the chance. Starting right tackle Chaz Green tore his labrum in late August, Driskel broke his leg against Tennessee, talented defensive tackle Dominique Easley tore his ACL three days after Driskel's setback, and Jones tore his meniscus 11 days ago at LSU.

Those are Florida's most prominent casualties to date, but third-year coach Will Muschamp reeled off many more in his media session following last Saturday's 36-17 loss at Missouri.

"We came in the game today with [defensive tackle] Damien Jacobs not making the trip," Muschamp said. "He had lingering effects from a late hit last week. [Outside linebacker] Ronald Powell made the trip so we could treat him and his ankle issue. [Outside linebacker] Darren Kitchens has got a chronic shoulder problem. He came in Thursday after practicing all week and locked up and didn't feel like he could play in the game.

"[Outside linebacker] Jeremi Powell injured his knee, and I'll know more this week, and [new starting quarterback] Tyler Murphy didn't practice with a little bit of a shoulder from the LSU game. He didn't practice most of the week, and then [cornerback] Jaylen Watkins hurt his wrist."

Florida's injury list essentially can be matched by rival Georgia, which has lost speedy tailback Keith Marshall and deep-threat receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending ACL injuries. Starting tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) and receiver Michael Bennett (meniscus) haven't played this month, and Gurley, Bennett, receiver Chris Conley (ankle), and safeties Tray Matthews (hamstring) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) are either questionable or doubtful for next week's game against the Gators in Jacksonville.

The Gators and Bulldogs were a combined 13-1 entering last season's showdown. They're a combined 8-6 this year.

"A lot of teams are going through this, and it seems like maybe more this year than I can ever remember -- just hearing about guys who are not able to play," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Saturday's loss at Vanderbilt. "When that happens, your margin for error is even smaller. You've got to play better, and you've got to play smarter.

"We're going through that right now in a tough way, but we've got a good group of guys and a good group of coaches. We're going to stick together."

When asked Sunday about the widespread injuries within the SEC, Richt said we may be hearing more about them this season because the players going down are more recognizable.

In the SEC East alone, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Tennessee's Justin Worley are the only quarterbacks who have not been sidelined due to injuries. Florida and Missouri played with backup quarterbacks last Saturday, which is also when South Carolina's Connor Shaw and Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels were knocked out of games.

Shaw is doubtful for this week's game at Missouri according to Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, while the status of Carta-Samuels for this week's trip to Texas A&M is unknown.

"I don't have the answer for that," Spurrier said Sunday when asked about the injuries. "As we know, players are getting stronger and faster and collisions are a little more forceful, I would say. Even in the NFL, it seems like they're having a lot more injuries than back in the old days, too. It's a collision sport, as we all know, so injuries unfortunately will happen."

Among the SEC West quarterbacks, Arkansas' Brandon Allen, Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Tyler Russell have had to sit out a game or games due to injuries.

Last season, no team in the league was ravaged by injury more than Missouri. Of the potential 60 starts the projected starting offensive linemen could have made, only 23 were performed by the preferred guys at the right positions.

That led to injuries to quarterback James Franklin, who made just eight starts and was unable to finish two of those. Franklin is out again with a separated shoulder, but the Tigers are much healthier than a year ago and are enjoying a sizable lead over their beat-up counterparts.

"I don't see us as banged up as some other schools are," Spurrier said. "We've got a couple of starting linemen with ankle sprains, and we had a concussion on one kid and Connor Shaw is probably out this week. Ankle sprains seem to be our biggest injury."

Said Muschamp: "We're doing everything we can do. We're shuffling guys around. We've just got to get better."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.