GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s big-play offense is facing a big-time setback.
Coach Jim McElwain expects to be without leading receiver Tyrie Cleveland against LSU on Saturday, a potentially significant loss for the 21st-ranked Gators (3-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference).
McElwain said Monday that Cleveland is wearing a walking boot on his right foot after badly spraining his ankle against Vanderbilt two days earlier. Cleveland was blocking on the perimeter during a running play in the fourth quarter when a Commodores defender fell on his foot.
McElwain said Cleveland “will be out, expect him to be out anyways.”
Cleveland has “the dreaded … high-ankle (sprain), which means he should be ready hopefully for the spring game moving forward,” McElwain joked.
Cleveland leads the team in every receiving category, recording 15 catches, 326 yards and two touchdowns. In the last three games, Cleveland had receptions of 45, 49, 50 and 63 yards. Those are the team’s only receptions of more than 40 yards this season.
“It definitely hurts a lot,” fellow receiver Josh Hammond said. “He was definitely a big problem for defenses. Definitely a big, vertical, deep threat and definitely helped takes things off a lot of other guys. I think other guys in our room will be ready to play.”
Cleveland was thrust into a leading role this season following the suspension of standout receiver Antonio Callaway, one of nine Florida players facing felony credit card fraud charges.
After catching 14 passes as a freshman, Cleveland has emerged as the team’s go-to guy. He ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards (81.5) a game. His most notable play was being on the receiving end of a game-winning, 63-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks on the final play against Tennessee last month.
He followed that up with more big gains against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. All four of his 40-plus-yard receptions led to scores.
LSU’s defense probably could use a break after numerous missed assignments and poor pursuit angles in a stunning home loss to Troy last weekend. If Cleveland can’t go, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said that would spare his defenders from having to cover at least one receiver with “speed, ability, deep-ball ability,” who often can “beat one-on-ones, (and gain) yards after the catch.”
Without Cleveland, the Gators expect more from Hammond, Brandon Powell and Freddie Swain.
McElwain also said freshman Kadarius Toney could get more snaps at receiver and in wildcat formations.
“Next man up,” safety Duke Dawson said. “That’s all I can say. You can’t just put all the weight on Tyrie’s shoulders, so it’s always the next man up. And I feel like those guys are going to do a great job this week and come in and prepare the right way.”
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