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Thursday, December 07, 2023

Florida preparing for Death Valley without Blades

The Gators play LSU for the first time since the shoe and fog game last season

<p>A Florida football helmet, pictured during a game against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4, 2021.</p>

A Florida football helmet, pictured during a game against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4, 2021.

The Florida secondary thinned out further over the weekend when defensive back Elijah Blades was no longer with the program, as first reported by The Athletic’s G. Allan Taylor

Head coach Dan Mullen confirmed the departure of the former Texas A&M cornerback Monday. 

“We dismissed him from our program,” Mullen said. “He’s no longer with the team.”

During fall camp, cornerback Jaydon Hill suffered a torn ACL to sideline him for the entire 2021 season. Star corner Kaiir Elam missed the previous three games but seems on track to play this Saturday against Louisiana State. Freshman defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson also won’t return this season after he suffered a knee injury. 

The only scholarship defensive backs left on the roster are Elam, Jason Marshall Jr., Avery Helm, Ethan Pouncey, Jadarrius Perkins and Jordan Young. Young and Pouncey have only seen snaps in garbage time so far this season. 

Mullen added to the injury update, saying he expects to get running back Malik Davis, left tackle Richard Gouraige and defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. back this week, along with Elam. 

The Gators look toward their matchup with the Tigers in Death Valley and hope to put the infamous shoe throw in The Swamp a season ago behind them. 

Defensive end Zachary Carter remembers how wild the weather was for 2020’s ending. 

“That was kind of insane, man, like, smoke coming up, you know, out of the sky,” Carter said. “And it’s like, ‘Man, what's going on,’ it’s like, you know, it’s a night game, too, so it was just a crazy environment.” 

The redshirt senior wasn’t surprised when a reporter brought up former defensive back Marco Wilson’s cleat toss that led to LSU kicker Cade York’s game-winning field goal with 23 seconds remaining. 

“But, man, it’s just, you know, just crazy play, he got caught up in emotions, excitement, and that happened,” he said. “But we just know this year, heading into this game, those little things like that can’t happen. Can’t do it.”

Mullen said Florida and LSU’s rivalry is exceptional because of the success of the two programs. 

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“You look at all the games coming down right to the wire — and not all of them — but a lot of them coming right down to the wire and being these tough battles,” Mullen said, “I think that’s what makes it a great rivalry game. It makes it must-see TV.”

One key for the Gators is slowing down Tigers’ quarterback Max Johnson. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns on their turf a year ago while adding 18 rushes for 52 yards. 

Johnson is accurate and has a strong arm that can throw the football all over the field, Mullen said.

“To me, I think he also has that moxie,” Mullen said. “He makes plays, he scrambles around, he extends plays. He kind of has a great feel for that stuff. You look and you’re probably not saying this guy’s the scrambling, dynamic, running quarterback, then you watch him move — not many people catch him.”

Florida and LSU kickoff at noon on Saturday from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and can be seen on ESPN. 

Contact Zachary Huber at Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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