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Pros (experience) and cons (toasted deep) for Gator freshmen

The top moment for the Gator freshmen: Defensive back CJ Henderson returns an interception 41 yards for a touchdown.

Associated Press

The top moment for the Gator freshmen: Defensive back CJ Henderson returns an interception 41 yards for a touchdown.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — After redshirt senior safety Nick Washington left Saturday's game with an injury, a 46-yard touchdown pass on the next play emphasized just how tough it was for Florida to lean on inexperienced players in its 33-17 loss to Michigan.

"It's never easy to play your first college game in (AT&T Stadium) against this opponent," redshirt senior Jordan Sherit (Hillsborough High) said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made a point of testing the youngsters in Florida's secondary, which was trying to replace the losses of defensive backs Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye to the NFL draft.

But despite all the inexperience, it wasn't all negative for Florida's freshmen defensive backs.

CJ Henderson had one of the defense's top plays when he intercepted an overthrow from Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving the Gators a 17-10 edge, their biggest lead of the game.

Henderson also wrapped up Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones at the 7-yard line on a punt return. In the third quarter, he came up with a third-down stop, tackling receiver Grant Perry a yard shy of a first down.

Florida cornerback Marco Wilson, brother of Quincy Wilson, had three tackles on the day, but he also let receiver Tarik Black beat him on the sideline for a 37-yard gain.

Coach Jim McElwain didn't criticize his freshmen but acknowledged that the Wolverines were able to exploit them.

"I didn't think they did bad, and yet (Michigan) took advantage on some big throws," McElwain said. "Those guys will learn a ton from this."

Freshmen defensive lineman Tedarrell Slaton and safety Donovan Stiner, a Texas native, also earned their first career tackles for Florida. Stiner's came on special teams while Slaton's came on a run from Michigan tailback Chris Evans.

Despite the learning curve, McElwain got about as much as he expected from his freshmen in the secondary.

"I think a bunch of those young DBs, they're going to be a force to be reckoned with," McElwain said. "It was a physical (game), it was one where they needed to be able to cover deep balls."

On offense, freshman running back Malik Davis — who set the all-time Hillsborough County high school rushing record while at Jesuit — rushed for 8 yards on his only carry of the game at the start of the second quarter.

Pros (experience) and cons (toasted deep) for Gator freshmen 09/02/17 [Last modified: Saturday, September 2, 2017 9:54pm]
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