JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s Jarrad Davis said he truly didn’t know a day earlier whether he was going to play Saturday against Georgia.
He knew he wanted to — that was never in question — but as for his ability to fight through a bad ankle sprain and take on his middle linebacker duties in a rivalry clash with the Bulldogs, there was some legitimate doubt.
“There definitely was. It was one of those real-deal, game-time situations,” Davis said afterward.
But after going through pregame warmups, Davis had made his decision and let Gators coach Jim McElwain know he’d be out there for the first defensive snap. As well as the last and most in between.
“I looked him in his eyes and just, he knew, he felt I was ready,” Davis said.
It wasn’t just that Davis played two weeks after writhing on the field in pain and having to be helped off against Missouri — it was how he played.
The senior led Florida with 7 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss and effectively sealed a 24-10 win by tracking down Georgia receiver Natrez Patrick for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-3.
“I was really surprised, to be honest. But like I said, it’s just hard to count a guy like that out,” McElwain said. “Just the way he’s built, the way his mindset is. You know, I’m not surprised he made plays. Him playing that effectively … pretty shocking.”
Redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone added that he was “not that confident” he’d see Davis out there Saturday, just based on what he’d observed in practice during the week.
So, when he watched Davis chase down Patrick toward the sideline after a quick reception on a crossing pass, making that final stop to cap a highly impressive individual and team defensive performance, Anzalone wasted no time finding his fellow linebacker to celebrate.
“I was excited for him. I ran all the way over because I was all the way on the other hash, and I jumped on him,” he said. “You’ll see it if you see pictures. I just mauled him. I was excited for him.”
Anzalone referred to Davis as Florida’s “emotional leader.” McElwain called him the “heart and soul” of the Gators.
“I can’t say enough. Like I said, he practiced Wednesday and not great. He got beat up by a tackling dummy on one play. But then he was there Thursday and obviously full walk-through Friday. He came back in after warm-ups and said, ‘Coach, I’m playing.’ And like I said, that was totally up to him,” McElwain said.
Davis said he essentially lived in the training room this week, leaving for class and lunch and returning for extra treatment after each.
As a native of Kingsland, Ga., he wanted to do everything he could to not miss his final Florida-Georgia game.
He didn’t come back to Florida for his senior season to sit out one of the Gators’ biggest games, he said.
But that said, even he wondered if he could physically push through the injury and be effective.
“I talked with my mom a lot this weekend. You know, it was a very emotional week. It was hard, man. I didn’t want to miss this game,” Davis said. “As much as it might have been a smart decision to just sit out and stuff like that, but I mean it’s football, man. At the end of the day, you’ve got to play this game. A lot of people don’t get that, but if I would have sat out, I mean that makes me question myself and what I actually do this for, you know? Those guys, the time we put in this summer, the time we put in throughout this season, the energy, the blood, the sweat and tears we’ve shed. What I’m about wouldn’t have showed up if I would have sat this game?”
Nobody can question what Davis is about — even if he hadn’t played.
But especially now. There are a lot of stars on this Florida defense, many key contributors to the second-ranked defensive unit in the country and one that held Georgia to 164 yards and 8 first downs Saturday.
It’s hard to say anyone means more to the Gators from a leadership standpoint than Davis, though.
He said he was frustrated at halftime, feeling there were plays he missed in the first half because he was a step slow due to the ankle. He had a chat with Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon and “we got it right.”
Four of Davis’ tackles and 2 of his tackles for losses came in the second half as he rode that wave of adrenaline.
And, again, the final one, that tackle for loss near the sideline on what would end up being Georgia’s last offensive play, was just perfectly fitting.
“I saw the formation before the play and I kind of knew what was coming. I took a really good educated guess and I guessed right,” Davis said. “To make that play, it meant a lot. It’s fourth down, get the ball back to our offense so we can run the clock out and get back out of here. It meant a lot to end the game like that, my last Florida-Georgia experience.”
One he’ll never forget.