Florida Football: How Gators Can Survive SEC Slate with Key Players Injured

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2012

Florida LB Jelani Jenkins
Florida LB Jelani JenkinsChris Graythen/Getty Images

Welcome back to the "good old days."

Thanks to 2-0 starts from both programs, the Florida vs. Tennessee game means something again, so much so that ESPN's College GameDay will be broadcasting live from Knoxville this weekend for Saturday night's prime time matchup between the Gators and Volunteers.

While the Gators went on the road and held Texas A&M's supposed high-flying offense to just 49 second half yards, they enter this meeting with several defensive question marks.

Starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins will miss the next four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a thumb fracture, while Cody Riggs, a co-starter at cornerback, will also miss four weeks with a foot fracture, according to the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun.

Jenkins was a preseason third-team All-SEC selection by the SEC's coaches, and has five tackles and one tackle for loss this season.

Antonio Morrison, who had six tackles vs. Texas A&M, will fill in for Jenkins. While Morrison was a 4-star prospect in the 247Sports.com Composite, he's still a true freshman, and will have to grow up in a hurry.

Riggs was primarily used in nickel and dime situations, which will primarily be filled by junior Jaylen Watkins in his stead. Riggs has seven tackles on the season.

The losses aren't just big for this weekend's matchup vs. Tennessee, but could severely impact the Gators' chances in the SEC East.

Tennessee has an offense that's waiting to explode with quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. While Florida's defense is talented, losing two key pieces for this game is huge.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the two will likely miss the game vs. LSU, which is four games from now. 

Florida's defense was punched in the mouth by the Aggies during Week 2, and while it took some key hits, it punched back with a vengeance in the second half.

The Gators will have to keep it up with a couple of new pieces in the lineup, because they're entering a stretch that could define whether the Gators are "back," or if they're still a year away.