Florida’s chances against Michigan in its season opener took another hit Wednesday when the team announced junior running back Jordan Scarlett and redshirt freshman receiver Rick Wells are suspended for the game.
About three hours later, coach Jim McElwain also announced quarterback Feleipe Franks as Saturday’s starter. But he didn’t start his press conference with that.
“Early this afternoon,” he began, “we were made aware of a couple of more guys, and obviously one of those is Jordan Scarlett that won’t be going with us this week and won’t be part of any team activities. ... As you know, the one thing I will never do is look the other way and try to hide something.
“It’s an opportunity for more guys to go and play and play their tails off.”
The latest blow to Florida’s roster swells its total suspension list to 10.
Seven players were suspended for alleged misuse of school funds earlier this month; receiver James Robinson was suspended for a marijuana citation last week; and now Scarlett and Wells are suspended as well. A source confirmed their suspension is in relation to the same misuse of funds.
Losing Scarlett is a significant blow to the No. 17 Gators at running back, where the St. Thomas Aquinas alum led the team with 889 yards and six touchdowns a season ago.
On Tuesday, he reiterated his goal for this season is to rush for 1,000 yards. He was also atop the team’s depth chart.
When asked about Robinson’s suspension less than 24 hours before his own was announced, Scarlett said talked about overcoming mistakes.
“I told him everybody makes mistakes,” Scarlett said. “Kind of a dumb mistake. I’ve already been through it. It’s just something you’ve got to learn from. I told him try to do some good things to cover all that stuff up. Everybody makes bad mistakes.”
Scarlett’s absence leaves sophomore Lamical Perine and redshirt senior Mark Thompson, who combined for 720 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns last season, as UF’s primary backs. Freshmen Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons round out the group, and McElwain said they’ll play.
“We’ve bumped Mark and Lamical,” he said. “Malik will play a ton as well… From a rotation standpoint, it probably moved Malik up into a few more things.”
Wells is a reserve receiver who was unlikely to make a significant impact.
The suspension is the second for Wells, who was charged with two felonies ahead of last year’s season opener, as well as for Scarlett, who was cited for marijuana possession before the 2016 Citrus Bowl against No. 11 Michigan.
Meanwhile, at quarterback, McElwain said that while Franks will take the first snap, his “plan” could still involve using more than one quarterback. When he told Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire of his intentions on Wednesday, he said they weren’t pleased but handled it well.
“We have a plan,” McElwain said. “We have a plan, all right? That was a good try.”
Saturday will be Franks’ first-ever action in a college game, while Del Rio and Zaire have both played on a national stage before. That inexperience didn’t deter McElwain.
“In that big stage,” he said, “the guy’s got a big arm, too.”