Florida opens conference play against Kentucky in just three days, and a lot has happened since the Gators kicked off the season two and a half weeks ago. Injuries have already piled up for both teams, and young or inexperienced players will need to fill in.
Here are the top players to watch during the Week 2 matchup:
DB Kaiir Elam, Freshman, Florida
It seems UF’s secondary loses players by the day.
The offseason saw defensive backs Chris Steele, Brian Edwards and John Huggins all leave the program for separate off-the-field circumstances, resulting in a Florida secondary without much depth.
That problem only worsened when starting cornerback CJ Henderson went down in the second quarter against UT Martin on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.
Kaiir Elam stepped in for the remainder of the game and played well, securing a solo tackle and the team’s first turnover of the season, an interception in the endzone during the fourth quarter. The interception was Elam’s first of his collegiate career, and he impressed in his first action of the season.
Though Elam is listed as a rotational player for the game against Kentucky, he will see much more playing time if Henderson remains out, which seems likely after he was listed as “doubtful”.
WR Jacob Copeland, Redshirt Freshman, Florida
The offense was not immune to the injury bug either.
Playmaking wide receiver Kadarius Toney exited the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, and initial reports have him out for at least a couple of weeks.
In his place may step Jacob Copeland, another speedy receiver who coach Dan Mullen uses as a gadget player with short screens and handoffs.
“He definitely has a lot of juice to him,” fellow receiver Josh Hammond said on Tuesday. “That speed is one thing that’s big with (Copeland). You saw it with the jet sweep and little plays like that. Those are things that he can take to the house.”
Copeland caught all three of his targets against the Skyhawks, including his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also had a nice run on a jet sweep for 15 yards.
Mullen said after the game that he was impressed with how “explosive” Copeland looked when he had the ball in his hands and noted that he wants to get it to him as much as possible in the future.
Florida will still miss Toney who, as a sophomore in 2018, caught 25 balls for 260 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 240 yards and two scores on the ground. Florida is expected to use Copeland the same way.
QB Sawyer Smith, Junior, Kentucky
After two games, the Wildcats have also seen the injuries mount up.
Against Eastern Michigan in Week 2, Kentucky lost its starting quarterback Terry Wilson for the season with a knee injury, and backup Sawyer Smith will take over.
During the offseason, Smith came to Kentucky as a graduate transfer from Troy after he took over as the starting quarterback for the Trojans seven games into the 2018 season. He went 5-2 with 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Wildcats’ offense was a big reason for their success in 2018, riding the play of Wilson and running back Benny Snell Jr., who broke the school’s career rushing yards record before declaring for the draft.
Without either of them this year, Smith will look to keep the offense afloat with his strong arm and big-play ability.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected].