GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Will Muschamp always preaches that an injury to one player is an opportunity for another. Former Lakewood High star Dante Fowler Jr. took that philosophy to heart on Saturday.
Fowler earned his first start at linebacker for the Gators, and along with fellow freshman Jonathan Bullard, the two gave Florida fans a glimpse of a promising future at that position. Fowler had five tackles and a sack and Bullard had three tackles and a key sack on Missouri's James Franklin that resulted in a 9-yard loss and ended a third and 21 on UF's 35-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
"Jonathan Bullard is a young man that's going to be a heck of a football player here, he's just getting started," Muschamp said. "He made a couple of really nice plays, and Dante made some really nice plays in the run game also, and had a nice sack. I'm very proud of those two young guys coming along."
Florida OL Chaz Green, a Tampa native, said he didn't know Fowler before he came to UF, but he knew quickly how good he would be.
"He's going to be a real good player," Green said. "Just blocking him from Day 1, we were like, 'This guy is good.' I'm happy to see what he's going to do the next few years."
INJURY UPDATE: The Gators began the day with injured players, and left Florida Field with more. LT Xavier Nixon (knee) and LB Lerentee McCray (ankle) did not play after being game-time decisions. "I didn't feel like they could go," Muschamp said. WR/KR Andre Debose (knee) and K Caleb Sturgis (ankle) both sustained injuries in Thursday's practice. Sturgis tried a field goal that was blocked (which was low) then had swelling and did not return. OL Jon Halapio, OL James Wilson, RB Mack Brown and S Matt Elam were injured in the game. "I don't know the extent of those injuries at this point," Muschamp said, adding that Elam's was a neck injury but he thought he would be fine.
CO-CHAMPS: Florida will share the SEC East title with Georgia, but Muschamp wasn't all that thrilled to hear the Gators would be receiving a trophy.
"At the end of the day, when I took this job understanding fully that the expectation was to go to Atlanta and win a championship," he said. "I've made my comment on how I feel about your season if that's not accomplished (said it would not be a successful season). We've made strides, but we're not where we want to be."
NOT INTERESTED: The majority of UF players said they had no plans to watch the Georgia-Ole Miss game, despite the implications for the Gators. A Bulldogs' loss would have sent Florida to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Coincidentally, Muschamp's wife, Carol, is an Ole Miss graduate.
NUMBERS GAME: Kendial Lawrence's 1-yard TD for Missouri in the first half was the only TD the Gators gave up at home this season in SEC play. … Florida has as many wins in conference play as it had total last season. … The Gators gave up just 24 points in four SEC home games.