COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida quarterback Malik Zaire had just given the Gators their best offensive play of the game on a 23-yard designed run Saturday vs. South Carolina when he sustained an injury that prompted the training staff to tend to him on the field.
After missing just one play, Zaire returned to the field, took the snap and began rolling to his left when he crumbled to the ground untouched.
Zaire tried to move around on the sideline with a brace on his left knee after the injury, but interim head coach Randy Shannon said during his halftime interview with CBS that he’d only put Zaire back in the game in an emergency situation.
Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks took over and is Florida’s only other healthy scholarship QB. Walk-on redshirt freshman Nick Sproles is made the trip as the Gators’ third QB.
Meanwhile, center T.J. McCoy left with an injury on the next series and was replaced by junior Tyler Jordan.
Franks, who started the first six games of the season, went 0 for 2 on that first drive while trading snaps with Zaire.
He came into the day with 928 passing yards, 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He averaged just 91 passing yards per game while starting the first three games of Florida’s current four-game losing streak.
Zaire took over as the starter last week vs. Missouri, giving way to Franks for the final two series of the 45-16 loss. Franks completed 7 of 10 passes for 98 yards and Florida’s only touchdown while finishing strong with the game already in hand.
He led another touchdown drive on his first full series Saturday, starting with a catch-and-run 37-yard pass to Josh Hammond and ending with an 18-yard Lamical Perine touchdown run.
Zaire, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame who waited more than half the season to get an extended opportunity, had passed for 158 yards last week and was 7 of 14 for 49 yards Saturday.
If McCoy can’t return, that’s another blow to a Florida offensive line that lost starting left guard Brett Heggie to a season-ending knee injury last week.
The Gators have had a tough run of luck on the injury front all season, losing QB Luke Del Rio to a season-ending collarbone injury in his first start, breakout freshman running back Malik Davis to a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago and Heggie the following week while receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney have been banged up and limited. On defense, ends Jordan Sherit (season-ending shoulder injury) and Jachai Polite (shoulder), linebacker Kylan Johnson (hamstring) and safeties Nick Washington (shoulder) and Marcell Harris (season-ending Achilles tendon injury) are among the notable losses.
Based on the information available and adding on the nine suspended guys, Florida is now down to just 54 active players who were recruited on scholarship.