The 2009 Florida football team garnered pre-season hype as one of the best of the modern era. And while Urban Meyer's squad has preserved its No. 1 ranking with a 3-0 start, the Gators might not have as much bite when they face Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
Three Florida starters (tailback Jeff Demps, tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham) played with the flu in Saturday's 23-13 win over Tennessee, and Meyer is worried about the possibility of the illness spreading through the team. Meyer said that his wife alerted him last week that the swine flu was going around the Florida campus.
"I would say this, it is a panic level of proportions I've never seen before. That's coming from me," Meyer said. "Our training staff and doctors are attacking this as hard as we can. The Purell stuff (hand sanitizer) is everywhere. You can't walk down the hallway without everyone telling you to do this, do that. We're trying the best we can, but it's real."
Meyer said none of the three players affected by the flu were themselves in the Tennessee game. Demps, a 5-foot-8, 183-pound speedster who rushed for 605 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging nearly 8 yards per carry last year, is in the worst shape of the three. Meyer said the players with the flu have been put in separate dorm and hotel rooms. Tulane, Washington State, Mississippi and Wisconsin are among the programs who have had multiple players miss time with H1N1, also known as swine flu.
The flu bug has also hit the Wildcats, although at this point the problem isn't as severe as Florida's. UK Coach Rich Brooks said that reserve defensive lineman Antwane Glenn has the flu and has been isolated from the rest of the team. Brooks didn't know if Glenn had swine flu or not but said the necessary precautions will be taken.
"You stress washing hands and try to educate them as best you can because you never know," Brooks said. "Almost every team this year in our league and around the country, has had one or more games impacted by the flu. It could be a costly effect."
Florida also has injury concerns. All-America linebacker Brandon Spikes missed the second half of the Tennessee game with an Achilles' tendon injury but is expected to play against UK. The Gators' receiver rotation has also been thinned out by injury. Starter Deonte Thompson missed the Tennessee game with a strained hamstring and is questionable for UK. Senior Carl Moore is out indefinitely with a back injury, and freshman Andre Debose, one of the country's top prep receivers last year, is out for the season with a torn hamstring tendon.
The Cats made it through Louisville without any major injuries, although offensive coordinator Randy Sanders did break an arm after a fourth-quarter collision on the sidelines. Brooks said the injury will not require surgery. Defensive end DeQuin Evans (hip flexor), center Jorge Gonzalez (MCL sprain), cornerback Trevard Lindley (bruised knee) and cornerback Randall Burden (sprained neck) are all expected to return to practice at some point this week.
Florida's psyche might be a little bruised after they struggled with the Vols much more than people expected. The Gators were a 30-point favorite coming into the game, and many expected Meyer to pour it on after UT Coach Lane Kiffin popped off the entire off-season. But the game was still in doubt in the fourth quarter, and Kiffin's dad, Monte, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator, was able to slow down Tim Tebow and the powerful Gator offense.
Florida had just 323 yards of offense against the Vols, and Lane Kiffin called his dad's plan the perfect blueprint to defend Florida.
While Brooks said you can draw some things from what Kiffin's defense was able to do against Florida, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll work the same this week.
"There probably are some things you can take (from the film) but (Tennessee) did some things with different fronts and things that, once Florida gets a chance to look at them on that blueprint won't be as good in future," Brooks said.
"They can make adjustments with their offense. But for a one-time game, they did as good job at slowing down and stopping that offense as any in the league. Monte Kiffin is a great defensive coach. I knew that when I competed against him in the NFL."