Josh Hammond didn’t see too many passes thrown his way the last time Florida and LSU went head to head in the regular season.
He wasn’t targeted a single time, in fact.
The Gators — facing the Tigers in Baton Rouge on Nov. 19, 2016 — had the likes of Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland lined up on either side of the field, with both players taking the lion’s share of the team’s snaps at receiver.
This time around, however, Callaway and Cleveland won’t be in the mix when UF and LSU match up in Gainesville on Saturday, clearing the way for Hammond and Florida’s other wideouts to see their opportunities increase.
“It’ll be a next man up mentality,” Hammond said. “I think other guys in our room will be ready to play.”
Callaway, the Gators’ leading receiver over the past two years, has been suspended from all team activities since Aug. 13 after police say he used stolen credit card information to purchase electronics from a university bookstore.
Cleveland — who in Callaway’s absence has averaged 81.5 receiving yards per game this fall, the third best mark in the SEC — is expected to sit out this weekend’s contest with a high ankle sprain, according to coach Jim McElwain.
That leaves Hammond, sophomore Freddie Swain, senior Brandon Powell and freshman Kadarius Toney to pick up the slack as UF (3-1, 3-0 SEC) faces a Tigers’ pass defense in the top half of the SEC, allowing 184.2 yards per game.
“We’ll be ready,” Hammond said. “We’ll just come and prepare like we always do and just expect the ball to come our way a little more.”
Hammond, a sophomore from Hallandale, Florida, has started in three of the Gators’ first four contests and is third on the team in receiving yards (93).
He recorded three catches against both Michigan and Tennessee, including a 34-yarder against the Wolverines on quarterback Feleipe Franks’ first career pass attempt, but has since been held without a reception.
Despite his lack of production in recent weeks, Hammond has earned his teammates’ full confidence due to his level of preparation at practice.
“Those guys are going to do a great job this week,” cornerback Duke Dawson said about the receivers. “(I’ve seen) a lot of improvement.”
Florida’s offense as a whole has made great strides this season compared to the numbers it put up in 2016. The Gators are averaging 30.7 points per game in conference play, a seven-point increase from last year’s scoring output.
They will have a chance to add to that figure on Saturday against an LSU team that fell to Troy, 24-21, last weekend.
“We’ve been looked at as the offense that couldn’t do anything and we get by with our defense,” Hammond said. “But now that we’re able to score points, it’s definitely a big confidence booster for everyone.”
You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at email@example.com.
UF receiver Josh Hammond gets tackled while holding the ball during Florida's 26-20 win against Tennessee on Sep. 16, 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.