The Florida Gators suffered two huge blows to a rushing attack that is expected to be among the more prolific in the nation in 2013 on Friday. Coach Will Muschamp confirmed that both starting running back Matt Jones and starting guard Jon Halapio will be out for the team’s season opener against Toledo, according to CBS Sports.
Jones has been suffering from a viral infection that kept him out for nearly all of training camp. The 6-foot-3 sophomore is listed at 223 pounds, but he reportedly lost 10 while battling the infection. Jones stepped onto UF’s Gainesville campus prior to last season as a one of the top prep running backs in the nation. After spending his first year backing up star senior Mike Gillislee, Jones enjoyed a fantastic spring and was expected to carry the rushing load this fall.
He still might, but in his absence Muschamp will lean on junior Mack Brown, sophomore Mark Herndon, redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers, and potentially the star freshmen tandem of Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor. Coach Boom is still debating whether to redshirt one or both of the freshman backs.
Whomever is toting the rock against the Rockets will not have the benefit of one of the most experienced players on the Gators’ roster in Halapio. The 6-foot-3, 321-pound guard has started 33 games for Florida, including every single one in both 2011 and 2012. He is big, strong and he understands the X’s and O’s of the game having spent so much time playing it.
Unfortunately, a torn pectoral muscle will keep him sidelined until at least the team’s SEC opener against Tennessee. The staff will look to backup guards Ian Silberman and Trip Thurman to step up, especially for the team’s Week 2 showdown against a vastly improved Miami squad.
The Gators finished out their 2012 SEC slate at 7-1 and managed to earn a berth in last season’s BCS Sugar Bowl on the strength of a dominant rushing attack.
Following the team’s highly successful campaign, Muschamp was expected to lean heavily upon the run game once again in 2013-14. With the loss of senior wide receiver Andre Debose to a torn ACL, an already extremely thin wideout corps looks even worse. Further, no one is certain quarterback Jeff Driskel will make the necessary advancements to provide a real threat in the passing game.
With two key injuries confirmed only days before the season starts, Florida’s offensive game plan is a bit up in the air.
Muschamp, however, wishes he could keep it planted firmly on the ground.