When the Florida Gators returned to practice from their COVID-19 outbreak this week, they faced an only-in-2020 scenario:
How do you prepare for a conference game in only five days when your team has spent the past two weeks quarantining?
“There’s not really a playbook for that,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said.
Aranda would know; his Bears went through a similar spike, shutdown and return earlier this month.
So even if Aranda doesn’t have a playbook, exactly, he does have some insight into what No. 10 UF is grappling with as it prepares to host Missouri on Saturday.
“Just taking players first and trying to get them to that game on Saturday is the most important thing,” Aranda told the Tampa Bay Times this week.
Baylor suspended its team activities on Oct. 8 because of an outbreak that infected at least 28 players and more than a dozen staffers. During the shutdown, unaffected players could continue running and conditioning while everyone else isolated or quarantined.
“When we got back, it was reduced practices,” Aranda said.
It had to be. The Bears were down to about five offensive linemen when activities resumed on Oct. 18.
Usually, Aranda pits the first-team offense against the second-team defense (and vice versa) so the starters can prepare for specific looks the opponent might show. But with limited available bodies, Baylor put the first-team units against each other, then broke off into smaller groups and walk-throughs to rebuild depth.
If the Bears' performance was a preview of what’s to come at UF, it’s not a great one. Without two starting offensive linemen, Baylor looked rusty early, falling behind by 24 through three quarters and losing at Texas 27-16 Saturday.
Although Aranda’s team is the closest comparison to the Gators' situation, it’s not the only one. Since mid-September, at least six other programs have suspended activities because of outbreaks.
USF paused onfield action last month as it awaited test results following a spike involving its previous opponent, Notre Dame.
When Florida International postponed its Oct. 17 game against Charlotte two days before kickoff, it paused its team activities, too. Eight days later — and down two-dozen players — the Panthers lost 19-10 to Division I-AA Jacksonville State.
The most optimistic onfield example for UF comes from Appalachian State. The Mountaineers went 17 days without practice because of a spike. They returned with a one-day minicamp on Oct. 14, scrimmaged the next day and then went into a traditional game-week plan.
“If it was a young team, I would be concerned…” coach Shawn Clark told the Winston-Salem Journal. “(We) have a bunch of guys who’ve won a lot of football games around here and know what it takes to be successful.”
They were successful in their first game in almost a monthc— a 45-17 victory over Arkansas State on Thursday.
The Gators have been tight-lipped about some of the details of their outbreak and practice routine. Coach Dan Mullen didn’t directly answer questions about how he’s adjusting practice this week or how close to full-strength his roster was on the first day back. His biggest concern was getting back into game-week routine after two unusual weeks off.
It’s not too different from what Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason has been going through.
Although the Commodores didn’t shut down quite like UF did, they have been limited because of an outbreak that caused them to postpone their Oct. 17 game against Missouri.
Mason said his team tried to maximize what they could do in abbreviated practices — like drilling fundamentals — to stay as ready as possible for Saturday’s Ole Miss game.
“There is no monthly plan,” Mason said. “You’ve got to go week-by-week, day-by-day.”