GAINESVILLE — The news coming out of Will Muschamp's weekly news conference on Monday contained pretty tough news about injuries to key starters, but the most telling part about how far Florida has come in his second season was there was no doom or gloom in the coach's voice.
When the No. 18 Gators play Saturday at No. 23 Tennessee, they will miss star linebacker Jelani Jenkins and starting cornerback Cody Riggs. Jenkins had surgery Monday morning on a broken thumb and Riggs has a fractured foot; both were injured in Saturday's 20-17 win at Texas A&M. Riggs will miss at least four weeks, and Muschamp estimated Jenkins is out four weeks. Junior offensive lineman Matt Patchan will miss his third game with a pectoral strain, and likely won't be back before October. Senior running back Mike Gillislee will play with a groin injury.
But unlike last season, Muschamp can say he has capable players to step in.
"Our depth is still not where it needs to be, but certainly much better than it was a year ago," he said. "We're not having to switch guys from position to position in order to finish a game or prepare guys for a game. It certainly gives them a comfort level that we like."
Muschamp's saying of "man down, man up" was in full display against Texas A&M.
When offensive lineman and Tampa Catholic grad Chaz Green went out with severe cramps, Kyle Koehne took his spot. When Riggs left, the Gators had replacements in Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers, moved Matt Elam to safety and shifted Jaylen Watkins from corner to nickel. Antonio Morrison played most of the game after Jenkins got hurt early and finished with six tackles. And when Gillislee went down, Mack Brown and former Armwood standout Matt Jones took over.
"Both guys for the first time, in a critical time in the game, had to step in and play, and play on the road and play well, and they did," Muschamp said. "Again, credit to all of those young men for preparing themselves well for the game because I told them when we left the hotel you never know when your number's going to be called and you better be ready to step up and play at a high level. There are no excuses."
With little depth last season, the staff began cross-training in spring in case of injuries. The result was many players who could play multiple positions, but few who excelled at any one.
Which is why players on Monday were so much more confident about this week's game, despite the injury news.
"It showed last week that we do have guys that can step in," senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "We'd like everybody back healthy. I don't know how realistic that is. … We do have some young guys who can definitely step up and play, as we showed Saturday."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who coached with Muschamp at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, said he can see on film that the Vols will face a team with Muschamp's style.
"Will is starting to get his team to look like what he wants his team to look like," Dooley said. "They are a pro-style and they are multi-formational, so they are going to try and get you out-flanked. We are going to try and be physical at the line of scrimmage and have a heavy back. That is his philosophy and they are starting to play Muschamp ball."