University of Florida

Injuries force Florida’s young defensive linemen to step up against Vanderbilt

Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) is led off the field after being injured in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6.
Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) is led off the field after being injured in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6. AP

The youth movement was evident along No. 23 Florida’s defensive line during its 13-6 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

With fifth-year senior Bryan Cox Jr. receiving minimal playing time and injuries forcing Joey Ivie (hand) and Jordan Sherit (leg) to sit out, UF coach Jim McElwain relied on younger players to step up and fill the void.

Three underclassmen in redshirt sophomore Khairi Clark as well as true sophomores Keivonnis Davis and CeCe Jefferson earned their first starts of the year. Regular starter Caleb Brantley was the fourth starter along the defensive line.

“I think this was a great game for them,” McElwain said. “I’m not saying they played particularly well, but they’re gonna have a great opportunity to see themselves on film and learn how to control blockers.”

The youth was evident, especially in run defense.

Paced by redshirt junior running back Ralph Webb (110 yards on 24 carries), Vanderbilt’s offense finished with 147 rushing yards on 37 carries.

To Brantley, it was a learning experience for the younger players.

“They’re picking up the plays,” Brantley said. “They’re acting like veterans out there. We’re doing a good job of bringing them along, and they’re doing a good job of coming along and staying in their playbook and staying ready.”

PUNTING PROWESS

Punter Johnny Townsend had one his best performance of the season. The redshirt junior averaged 51.9 yards per punt, and had a career-long kick of 62 yards in the third quarter. Four of his seven punts pinned Vanderbilt inside its 10-yard line.

“The hidden yardage I think was in our favor this week,” McElwain said.

For the season, Townsend is averaging 50.21 yards per punt, with 15 of his 24 boots going for at least 50 yards. Only two have gone into the end zone for touchbacks.

LOCAL TIES

Five UF players who played for high schools in Broward or Miami-Dade counties — Davis (Miami Central), receiver Antonio Callaway (Booker T. Washington), running back Jordan Scarlett (St. Thomas Aquinas), kicker Eddy Pineiro (Miami Sunset) and Quincy Wilson (University School) — started for Florida on Saturday.

Vanderbilt has two players on its roster with South Florida connections.

Junior quarterback Wade Freebeck and freshman cornerback Frank Coppet both played at St. Thomas Aquinas.

THIS AND THAT

▪ Tight end DeAndre Goolsby had 37 receiving yards on a career-high eight catches Saturday. Over his past two games, the junior has 13 catches for 63 yards.

▪ SEC Nation, the SEC Network’s version of ESPN’s “College GameDay,” will be on the University of Florida campus next week for the UF-LSU game.

▪ Sherit, linebacker Alex Anzalone, Scarlett and offensive lineman Martez Ivey served as Florida’s team captains.

▪ Outgoing UF athletics director Jeremy Foley was honored during the first quarter.

▪ True freshman Antonneous Clayton, a five-star recruit, took his first snap for the Gators late in the first quarter. He recovered a fumble caused by Cox. in the fourth quarter.

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