Top-ranked Florida may have a bigger concern than the flu bug right now.
Throw in the fact that tight end Aaron Hernandez and receiver Justin Williams missed time because of flulike symptoms, and the Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) aren't sure who will be running routes Saturday at Kentucky (2-0, 0-0).
"Right now, our receiving corps is not up to Florida standards," coach Urban Meyer said.
Not even close, really.
Meyer thought Thompson, Cooper, Moore and Debose would pick up the slack. But Thompson, a deep threat who was expected to be Tim Tebow's primary target, has been slowed by a hamstring injury. Cooper, who returned for his senior year despite signing a lucrative baseball contract with the Texas Rangers, has a pinched nerve and a chronic foot problem.
Moore, another senior, is out indefinitely because of a back injury. And Debose, the prize of Florida's recruiting class, had season-ending surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon.
All those injuries to receivers reminds Meyer of 2005, when Andre Caldwell broke his right leg early in the season, Dallas Baker missed time because of a broken rib and a punctured lung, and Jemalle Cornelius was sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
Without them, Florida's five-receiver formations included a tight end (Tate Casey), a running back (DeShawn Wynn), a former quarterback (Gavin Dickey), a converted linebacker (Billy Latsko) and a one-time walk-on (Kyle Morgan).
"The offense was in reverse," Meyer recalled.
Even though the Gators don't have the same depth problems now, receivers coach Billy Gonzales said the situation is so bleak he would love to have Latsko back in the mix.
"I'll take Billy right now," Gonzales said. "I've got some young guys and they are talented. I've just got to keep on them and make sure they develop. And that's my responsibility. That's why I'm coaching here, and I would never put anything on a player."
Gonzales acknowledged that his young guys — redshirt freshmen Frankie Hammond Jr., Omarius Hines and T.J. Lawrence — need to step up. But he added that it's difficult to trust unproven players in big-time games.
That's why Tebow carried the load in last week's 23-13 victory against Tennessee.
Tebow ran 24 times for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Volunteers, with most of his attempts and yardage coming in the second half.
He completed 14 of 19 passes for 115 yards. His nation-leading streak of 30 games with a touchdown pass ended. He threw an interception, fumbled near the goal line in the fourth quarter and was sacked three times. But most of the blame landed on the receivers.
Senior David Nelson refused to point the finger at his fellow wideouts.
"We were open," Nelson said. "We take a lot of pride in what we have. I'll never say we're not as explosive as we used to be or we're not as good as we used to be. I think we're every bit as good as we were last year. We're just looking for the opportunity to prove that. Maybe we didn't show it this past weekend, but we won the game. That's all that matters."
Tennessee dropped as many as eight defenders into coverage on passing downs — a scheme designed to take away deep routes and big plays — and left Tebow room to run. Tebow took advantage, and the Gators ended up with 44 runs and just 19 passes.
"You don't have to be a genius to figure out the strength of our team right now," Meyer said. "And that's a big offensive line running off the ball and a freak quarterback that just takes the game over.
"Is it perfect? No, it's not perfect. But until we get the full allotment, the full compliment, of wide receivers playing at the level we need them to play, we've got to do what we've got to do to win."
Source: AP News