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Brantley to play for UF Saturday

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Will Muschamp expects quarterback John Brantley's return to provide a "huge psychological shock."

The Gators could use a huge offensive boost, too.

Muschamp's team has scored just 17 points in 10 quarters since Brantley injured his right ankle against Alabama on Oct. 1. It's the program's worst three-game stretch of offense since 1988, and it has the Gators clinging to hope in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division race.

Brantley could help turn things around.

The fifth-year senior returned to practice in a limited role Monday and was expected to play against No. 22 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday.

"We expect his reps to increase as the week grows," Muschamp said. "But we wanted to get him out today and get him out there moving around and get people around him and throw the football around a little bit. I fully expect him to continue to progress through the week unless we hit something that we're not predicting. I fully expect him to be fine."

The Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) need Brantley back in the mix.

Brantley has completed 65 percent of his passes for 942 yards this season, with five touchdown and three interceptions. His numbers are modest, but his importance became evident when Charlie Weis' offense was turned over to two true freshmen.

Jacoby Brissett started at top-ranked LSU and completed 8 of 14 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in a 41-11 loss. He also threw two interceptions and often looked lost against one of the nation's top defenses.

He wasn't any better against one of the SEC's worst defenses. Brissett completed 5 of 10 passes for 45 yards, with an interception against Auburn the following week. He was benched at halftime in favor of fellow freshman Jeff Driskel, who threw for 75 yards in a 17-6 loss.

Muschamp has not decided on a backup.

But barring a setback, Brantley will be back under center against the Bulldogs (5-2, 4-1).

"Getting him back is going to be a huge psychological shock for our football team," Muschamp said. "I really believe that. ... Obviously, the production when he was not in the game went down. You've got to give our opponents some credit on that as well.

"There's no question he gives us a psychological boost for our football team on offense and on defense, too, because that effects how the defense plays sometimes."

Muschamp believes Brantley's injury deflated a young, inexperienced team that played with lots of confidence in the first four weeks of the season. No one knows for sure whether Brantley would have helped the Gators beat Alabama, LSU or Auburn, but the team certainly looked different with him standing on the sideline on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

"You can't let one thing affect you so much where if affects how you play," Muschamp said. "That's what I really challenged the players: Don't let the circumstances around you control how you are. You control who you are and you play the game regardless of the situation, and you play with a reckless attitude regardless of the situation. Those are the things that we can continue to grow on."

Since his father, John Brantley III, and uncle, Scot Brantley, played for the Gators, John Brantley desperately wanted to get healthy in time to face rival Georgia. Florida has won 18 of the last 21 meetings.

Brantley stayed in a walking boot for more than two weeks, giving his ankle extra time to heal, and did little or nothing outside throwing some passes in practice last week. His ankle reacted fine to the first test, but the next step is seeing if it can hold up through a week of practice.

"When John had his injury, he was very disappointed and hurt, down," Muschamp said. "He told me back then, he said, 'I want to get back for Georgia.' It's important to John. Of course, his dad is a Gator; his uncle was a Gator. They understand the importance of this game. There's no question that he really pinpointed trying to get back for this game."

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