(Fox Sports) – Two of the big storylines surrounding the Florida Gators football team is the disappointment of the SEC Championship and the loss of Brandon James.
The Gators have to deal with one of their most explosive pieces out for their Sugar Bowl match-up on Friday at 8:30pm against Cincinnati.
James was their all-purpose yards leader amidst a host of other distractions and problems in preparing for the Bearcats (the latest of which being a string of speeding tickets the team has racked up).
In doing so, the Gators have to replace kick returns, punt returns, and a supreme playmaker akin to Percy Harvin. However, those aspects don’t have to come from the same person. The Gators can replace each aspect of James’ game with a single player who excels at that specific aspect of the game.
One of the toughest areas to address will be the kick return game. James averaged 26.07 yards per return, good enough for 25th in the country. Still, the Gators have two capable return men on the team in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, who both returned kicks against Alabama.
Demps had two returns for 55 yards and Rainey had one for 28. While that’s not much of a sample size to go by, it still works out to three returns for 83 yards, or 27.67 yards per return.
Splitting their touches seems like a good idea. The Gators don’t need both back there at the same time mostly because neither blocks as well as Riley Cooper, James’ partner in the kickoff backfield.
Ultimately Rainey and Demps might not do much better than James but they should not do any worse.
In the closely related area of punt returns the options are few between. James struggled this year averaging 7.39 yards per return, 43rd in the country.
Nobody on the Gators’ team is a proven punt returner. Frankie Hammond Jr. has three returns in garbage time and they weren’t for many yards.
On offense Brandon James’ staple for four years has been the screen as he runs it from a variety of positions. It’s not a very big part of the Gators’ game (who use Hernandez’ shovel pass/option as the go to screen pass) so more than likely Demps will handle the few RB screens.
Elsewhere on offense the Gators could go to the most athletic player on the team in Joe Haden to provide a spark. After all he has played receiver and quarterback in high school.