As Injuries Pile Up, Gators Offense Suffers

Florida running back Matt Jones is being held out of training camp with a viral infection that could effect his availability for the season opener.

This year’s training camp must feel like Groundhog Day for Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

Almost every day the third-year head coach seems to have more bad news pop up on him and it’s coming at the expense of an offense that was hoping to breakout in 2013.

Nearly two weeks ago it was the announcement that starting quarterback Jeff Driskel had an emergency appendectomy. He should return to practice next week and be ready to start the season opener at Toledo.

A few days later projected starting running back Matt Jones was hit with a viral infection that has kept him out of action and caused a fairly significant drop in weight. It’s questionable if he’ll be available to play in the season opener but the loss of weight, strength and energy may linger with the sophomore all season.

And on Wednesday senior wide receiver Andre DeBose tore his ACL and will miss the season. While Debose had never reached the potential that was expected when he was recruited in the class of 2009 he was a big weapon on special teams.

With each injury and each day that Driskel and Jones miss the continued development of the Gators’ offense suffers. The hope on Driskel is that he can make major improvements this year and make more big plays with the passing game. While Jones was expected to be as good, if not better, than watch Mike Gillislee provided at the position last year.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Driskel has the complete physical package. He can run and he has a big arm. However, Driskel struggled putting together complete games and at times the offense was better off with him doing nothing more than handing the ball off to Gillislee (see LSU game).

This isn’t to say Driskel was all bad. He showed great toughness in an early-season win against Texas A&M, rallied Florida past Tennessee a week later and helped the Gators survive a tough test against Vanderbilt with his legs. But it seemed when the Gators needed him to make plays with his arm the most, he came up short.

For the most part people remember Driskel almost giving the LSU game away in with a costly fumble in the first quarter or the turnover-plagued performances against Georgia and Louisville. The best example of Driskel’s inconsistency was probably the Florida State game.

After playing a solid first half to give the Gators a 13-3 lead, Driskel made a series of silly errors that led to FSU taking a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter. However Driskel recovered and converted a big third down with his feet to right the ship and earn a victory over the rival school.

Still the every day Driskel misses in training camp he loses valuable reps that he will need to navigate through a schedule that Phil Steele considers the toughest in college football.  The Gators have a group of promising young receivers but they lack experience and need to build chemistry with their quarterback.

As for Jones, he might be the most important piece of Florida’s offense this year. Although he had just 52 carries in 2012, Jones is the most experienced running back on the roster and during the spring Muschamp said he expected the former Armwood High standout to rush for over 1,200 yards this season.
The main problem with Jones’ injury is we won’t know exactly how much it will affect his on-field performance until he is actually on the field and getting carries. How will he respond to receiving 20 carries a game? Will he be able to maintain his energy levels in the second half?

Behind Jones is junior Mack Brown and true freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. All of Florida’s running backs have talent but they aren’t as good as Jones right now and there isn’t much time to get them acclimated to every facet of the offense. Because of their inexperience expect Driskel’s running ability to be even more of a factor early in the season.