Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Jon Greenard would have to be dead to not play on Saturday.
That was the qualifier given by No. 6 Florida Gators BUCK for the crucial game against the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs. After having to miss the South Carolina game and much of the LSU loss with a high ankle sprain, Greenard can’t foresee a scenario where he isn’t on the field Saturday in Jacksonville for the game that will in all likelihood decide who plays in Atlanta as the champion of the SEC East.
“I practiced [Monday] and felt really good. Just going to continue to work on it, get more rehab and stuff to be able to make it manageable and continue to do my thing. I just know I’m going to be out there and that’s all that matters.
“I would say I’m good. I’m 85-90. If I’m honestly 85-90, to me that’s 100 percent. I feel good. No excuses. Of course, I’m going to have to have the brace and stuff like that but, like I said, I’m playing.”
The senior hurt his ankle during the win over Auburn three weeks ago. He felt good the following week (while taking it easy to rest the ankle) and was prepared to play against LSU the following Saturday. He tried on the first series and again on the third, but was devastated to realize whenever he tried to plant and take off, his ankle wasn’t ready for the move. Having to stand on the sideline while his team lost to the No. 1 Tigers brought flashbacks to the transfer from Louisville who missed all of last season with a wrist injury.
“It was tough. It kind of brought a flashback, that’s why I got emotional on the sideline. The flashback I had to me missing all of last year, being in the training rooms, being on the sideline every single day and all year. That just kind of brought a little flashback but once I got over I had good teammates and a good support system and realized I had to be selfless and help those guys.”
While he did help on the sidelines and with encouragement, unfortunately he couldn’t do much to help on the field. Corner Marco Wilson admitted after the game that not having Greenard effected them in a way that was a bit surprising. No teams wants their success to hinge on one player. But Greenard has been quite the impact player for the Gators this season.
Before the LSU game, the BUCK had 28 total tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble, an interception, three pass break ups and seven quarterback hurries. He’s arguably been the Gators defensive MVP and his presence is palpably felt from every position when he’s on the field. Defensive end Jabari Zuniga being out with an ankle injury as well was a double blow. Without the two, there was little pass rush—with Zach Carter and Jeremiah Moon not having experienced depth behind them for reprieve's and rotation—which meant the secondary had little time to get in place. It also meant the run defense was noticeably effected.
The Gators two worst defensive rushing performances this season was LSU (218) and South Carolina (217), games where they were without Greenard and Zuniga. It wasn’t just a fluke in facing those two teams at those times either. That was LSU’s second best rushing performance of the season (first was 248 against Utah State) and South Carolina’s third best (493 against Charleston Southern and 247 against Kentucky).
“I think anytime you lose guys like that, it can affect you in everything you do because they're physical guys at the point of attack,” explains Grantham.
“They’re guys who can get off blocks, they're guys that can win the one-on-one blocks, set the edge like you said. I think anytime you remove one, you're dinging yourself, and if you remove two, that ends up being a challenge which our guys have handled and did a really good job against South Carolina, so we've just got to, we've kind of got some depth now with them coming back, you kind of feel comfortable playing maybe some other guys maybe a few snaps that maybe you wouldn't have earlier.”
Adds safety Shawn Davis, “It’s really big because when they went down, we had a couple of young guys to step up. But now that we got our vets back, we can really lock it down. We can lock the edges down and pull everything down, get to the quarterback and running back.”
For Greenard, the Georgia native who grew up a Florida win and transferred to Gainesville for his last year hoping to get a shot at a championship, this game is why he came here. It’s the culmination of everything he wanted as a Gator. His teammates are happy and maybe even a little desperate to have him back. And lucky for them, there isn’t anything that could keep him off the field this Saturday.
“This game, I never played Georgia. I always watched them. I always wanted to play them. I always wanted to play in the SEC. Getting a chance to do that now, to play against a top team, a team that’s been in the national championship, just like many other teams as well, it’s going to be a fun one. I’m excited for it. I can’t show it right now, but I’m excited. I’m just ready to get back out there.
“This is a game I've been thinking about since I was a child, obviously, I heard about it, the opposite side, me being a Florida fan all my life…it’ll be really good to get a W, bragging rights not only to them but it also sets us up for where we want to be moving forward with this team. We've got a lot of guys that can make some real good plays. We've got a lot of guys that think this team can take it the distance. At this point, we've just got to play football."