GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Linebacker Jarrad Davis’ gritty performance was the most compelling storyline from Florida’s win over Georgia, but the totality of players pushing themselves to play through pain impressed Gators coach Jim McElwain.
The return of defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) and nose tackle Joey Ivie (thumb) after two-game absences buoyed the Florida defense. In addition, defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. returned after missing just one game with a broken hand.
“I just think that really speaks volumes for this football team in not only how much they care about the team, but about the Gators,” McElwain said. “They all had excuses and reasons maybe not to play and yet, because of who they are and their makeup, they chose to play. I just can’t say enough about that.”
Sherit, who had his knee scoped after the Vanderbilt game, notched 2 tackles in his return; Ivie, who played with a cast or wrap on his hand/thumb, had 1 tackle and 1 quarterback hurry; and Cox, who played with a large club on his broken hand, had a quarterback hurry. All three started when healthy through the first part of the season.
The Gators rotated young players through the defensive line, and the return of those veteran players belied the stats, McElwain said.
It represented an attitude and identity for the team.
“You looked out there, there were all freshmen on the defensive line at times. But I think what it did is those guys are kind of elevating the play of a Cox, of a Sherit, of a Ivie that are saying, ‘You know what, these guys are hungry. Maybe I can go in there and do it.’ I think that has a lot to do with it,” McElwain said.
As for Cox, there may never be any clarity as to how exactly he broke his hand in pregame warmups prior to the game with Missouri.
McElwain and defensive line coach Chris Rumph both expressed their surprise at the injury, and Cox had no more insight on it Monday while meeting with reporters for the first time since the fluke setback.
“I really don’t even have an exact explanation of what happened,” he said. “It’s just some freak accident kind of happened and I broke my hand.”
After the injury, McElwain had indicated he wasn’t sure if Cox would play the rest of the season.
“It was pretty serious in the moment, but as we developed a plan with the training staff and stuff like that, we figured out that I could play if I clubbed my hand up,” Cox said. “So, I just decided to go with that and give it a try and it worked out pretty well.”
He was asked if he’s ever seen anybody wear a bigger cast-like contraption on their hand in a game?
“No, man, mine trumps all,” he said.
It allowed him to play, but it didn’t shield him from the pain.
“A lot. A lot. I don’t know if anybody here has ever had a broken hand, but it definitely is not pleasant,” Cox said.
As for the latest injury report, McElwain said Davis “felt OK after the game, which was good.”
Other Gators playing through pain
Redshirt senior Mark Herndon, who mostly plays on special teams, is “still banged up” with an unspecified injury. Linebacker Kylan Johnson also is hurt with an undisclosed injury and the team will evaluate him this week.
Tight end DeAndre Goolsby also played through pain Saturday after fracturing a finger against Missouri. He had only 1 catch for 1 yard as C’yontai Lewis took over more of the pass-catching tight end duties, but like the other guys mentioned, he was on the field for the Gators.
That presence matters to Cox and the rest of the Gators.
“I think it’s a big deal, just being there for the team,” he said. “That’s the main thing, that they see us pushing through our injuries — you know, I’ve got a broken hand, I’m sitting here with a cast on my hand and I’m sitting here still trying to play and fight for my team. You know, that means something to the coaching staff, that means something to all the players that us older guys, we’re taking the initiative to try to win.”