FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — How does the saying go, adding insult to injury?
It was the other way around Saturday for Florida, as a seemingly unending series of significant injuries compounded its struggles on the field in a 31-10 loss at Arkansas.
First was center Cam Dillard, who was in clear pain on the turf before limping to the locker room with the help of trainers in the first half. He later returned to the sideline with crutches and his left knee wrapped.
Then came both of the Gators’ star linebackers in the third quarter, first Alex Anzalone and then Jarrad Davis. Anzalone, who has had setbacks with shoulder issues throughout his collegiate career and missed most of last season, appeared to be favoring his left arm. Davis, who has been playing through a significant ankle sprain the last two games, appeared to tweak the injury later in that quarter and sat out the rest of the game.
Wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who looked to have hurt his ankle, and kick returner Chris Thompson, who took a brutal hit on a return, later joined the injury list as well.
After the game, Florida coach Jim McElwain spoke vaguely about the spate of injuries while indicating that each of those guys “will probably be out.” He didn’t specify if that meant for a game or more.
Asked if he was worried any of the injuries could be season-ending, McElwain said he didn’t know.
“I mean, we’ll know by the Monday press conference, obviously,” he added.
While the Gators (6-2, 4-2 SEC) will be looking to recover mentally after the deflating loss, key health concerns jeopardize their production moving forward as well.
“I feel for them,” quarterback Luke Del Rio said. “I mean, the amount of pain that JD’s playing through right now is unreal. That’s a guy you want to follow. Cam was in a lot of pain, as well, screaming, rolling. Breaks your heart to see it. These are your friends, not just your teammates. These are your buddies. It’s sad to see.”
Added left tackle David Sharpe: “It was just crazy, man. All those guys play so hard and just to see the injuries we had today was brutal.”
The loss of Dillard up front forced right guard Tyler Jordan to slide over to center. Jordan was initially recruited as a center and has worked there in practice. Fred Johnson, who opened the year as the team’s starting right tackle, took over at right guard.
Earlier in the week, Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers spoke about how important Dillard is to the line from a communication standpoint, identifying the defense and making calls for the unit.
Sharpe called him “the point guard of the offensive line. He makes the calls. We run through him.”
McElwain didn’t use the loss of Dillard as an excuse, though.
“I mean we work those guys in all the time, so there is nothing there,” he said. “I feel bad for Cam. He was playing pretty good. We will see where all those injuries are and we’ll run out of the tunnel in The Swamp for senior day.”
Florida hosts South Carolina next Saturday for its final home game.
As for the void of the veteran linebackers, redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson initially took over for Anzalone and freshman David Reese filled in for Davis. Johnson later got banged up himself, pushing freshman Vosean Joseph into action, but Johnson is expected to be available next week.
McElwain will provide an update Monday on all of those guys.
Safety Marcus Maye acknowledged that the defense wore down in general as Arkansas ran 24 more plays than Florida and held a time of possession advantage of 39:21 to 20:39.
“It’s our job to stop the other team and we didn’t do that like we know we can,” Maye said. “So, just having a bunch of guys go down, you know, JD and Anzalone … once you’re on the field that much, it does wear you down.”