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Monday, March 04, 2024

Response to injuries will be key for Florida against Mizzou

<p>UF running back Malik Davis is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury he suffered during Florida's 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday.</p>

UF running back Malik Davis is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury he suffered during Florida's 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday.

Malik Davis watched Georgia complete its beatdown of his team while propped up on crutches and wearing a large, black brace. He stood as an emblem of Florida’s season so far.

Davis started this season with promise. The true freshman emerged from a crowded backfield early and established himself as the team’s leading rusher. Then one play Saturday changed the trajectory of his season, just as Florida’s blowout loss to the Bulldogs set its own.

Davis is done for the year. A knee injury will keep him off the field. His team, at least in any meaningful sense, is done as well. There will be no playoff, no SEC title and there’s still the possibility of no bowl game. Instead, the season is propped up on crutches, with interim coach Randy Shannon serving as the brace binding the broken knee Jim McElwain left behind.

So what do the Gators play for now? Most of their goals from the beginning of the season are unreachable. Shannon said they’re playing for each other. For pride. To beat Missouri this weekend. And reaching that goal starts with assessing the injury situation.

Davis aside, the other big offensive names on the injury list are receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney.

Cleveland has more than twice as many yards (331) as any other UF receiver despite catching one pass — for 5 yards — in his last three games. Brandon Powell is next with 148 yards. Cleveland was limited against the Bulldogs and in the three games before that with an ankle injury, but Shannon said this weekend could be his anticipated return to full strength. He’s been “bouncing around” in practice and should be ready for the Tigers.

“We’re excited to have him back because we have a chance for us to throw some balls downfield and see if we can make some plays,” Shannon said. “You have a chance to score some points because you’ve got a big-play receiver back that can run full speed and get after it. It makes you feel good.”

His return could help a Florida offense than ranks second-to-last in the SEC in passing offense against a Missouri defense that ranks second-to-last in the conference with 261 yards through the air allowed per game.

Toney could also help that effort, but it sounds like he might be more limited. The true freshman playmaker “moved around,” Shannon said, but was limited to no contact. His situation on Saturday is uncertain.

Fellow wideout Josh Hammond is also nursing a back injury and didn’t practice Tuesday. However, Shannon said he expects him to be able to practice — and, as a result, possibly play on Saturday — later this week.

If Cleveland’s injury is key to UF’s offense finding success, linebacker Kylan Johnson’s is the key to its defense finding success. But in a different way.

Johnson is probably out for the year with a hamstring injury and won’t play against Mizzou. That created a vacuum at an already-thin position due to true freshmen James Houston and Ventrell Miller still being suspended. How players like David Reese, Vosean Joseph, Jeremiah Moon, Cristian Garcia and Rayshad Jackson react to and fill that vacuum will be critical to the team’s success on defense.

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“We just have to keep coaching the guys we have,” Shannon said.

You can follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri, and contact him at ebauer@alligator.org.

UF running back Malik Davis is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury he suffered during Florida's 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday.

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