Florida Gators defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga are considered game-time decisions for Saturday’s game against South Carolina.
And with Dan Mullen not clarifying their status on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference and a report ($) that neither pass-rusher practiced on Tuesday, it’s probably fair to consider them questionable at best for the game.
That could be a big problem for Florida — but just how big might depend on who South Carolina is playing at quarterback, too.
Florida’s pass rush was largely neutralized by LSU in Death Valley last Saturday, with the Gators recording zero sacks and meaningfully pressuring Joe Burrow only a handful of times. With Greenard out for all but a couple of plays and Zuniga limited all night — both players are nursing ankle injuries, though Zuniga’s had been known and had kept him out of almost a month of action, while Greenard’s was revealed as something of a shock during the game and had not previously led to him missing time — the Gators lacked their best one-on-one rushers, and had to rely on blitzing and breakdowns to hurry Burrow ... who mostly evaded the rush with impressive foot speed, anyway.
If Florida is without Greenard and Zuniga again, it’s hard to see how Jeremiah Moon, Zachary Carter, and Khris Bogle — all promising pass-rushers, all still works in progress — could combine to approximate their elders’ proficiencies.
But if South Carolina starts Ryan Hilinski, who sat out much of the latter stages of the Gamecocks’ upset of Georgia after sustaining a knee injury, then it will be rolling with a quarterback not known for his mobility in the first place and compromised by injury. Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday that Hilinski “should be fine” and is expected to play against the Gators, but Hilinski’s injury being enough to knock him fully out of a game — when, for example, Florida’s Kyle Trask got rolled up similarly against Auburn and returned in that same game — might be a hint as to its severity.
And Hilinski isn’t a particularly mobile signal-caller in the first place. Sacks included, he’s run the ball 14 times for a combined loss of 12 yards, though he did score a rushing touchdown against Charleston Southern.
So while Florida may not be able to bring the full version of its once-fearsome pass rush to bear in Columbia, it may not need that full version to make things tough on Hilinski. And if Hilinski proves ineffective — or is unfortunately reinjured — the Gamecocks are likely to once again turn to Dakereon Joyner, who had been converted from quarterback to wide receiver after falling well behind Jake Bentley and Hilinski in the competition for the starting spot.
Turning to Joyner, even more than a hampered Hilinski getting harried, would likely make South Carolina one-dimensional, as Joyner completed just six of 12 passes for 39 yards against Georgia, and did not attempt a pass on any of the Gamecocks’ 13 offensive snaps.
In other words: While Florida’s pass rush may be somewhat diminished at South Carolina, the Gators might not have to open all that wide to clamp down on the Gamecocks, thanks to their murky situation at quarterback.