Florida will be without its defensive "alpha" in the first half against Florida State next weekend after linebacker Ventrell Miller was ejected for targeting in the second half of the Gators' loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Miller, a sixth-year senior, will be sidelined for the first half of his final regular season game with UF, in accordance with NCAA protocols. Rule changes approved earlier this year allow the Southeastern Conference to request an appeal of the ruling to the NCAA national coordinator of officials on Miller's behalf.
Miller lowered his head before attempting to tackle tight end Ben Bresnahan after a reception on 1st and 10 early in the fourth quarter. While Miller didn't make helmet-to-helmet contact with Bresnahan, instead hitting him in the shoulder area, it was enough to warrant an official review that led to Miller's disqualification.
While at that point in the game — down 28-18 — it was up to Florida's offense to put together a comeback effort, head coach Billy Napier pointed to the absence of Miller's leadership qualities across the final 12 minutes of play.
"Ventrell is obviously a significant player on our team, not only his production but his leadership. He’s a great communicator, and that affects you," Napier described of Miller's ejection. "I do think that the group that went in there, they made the most of their opportunity.
Napier suggested that the team will study the tape of Miller's hit before potentially taking action regarding an appeal.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson said events like Miller's ejection and can either make or break a team, which caused Richardson to step up as a leader in his own right. He was seen consoling Miller in the moments following the linebacker's removal from the matchup.
"Seeing one of the leaders get kicked out of a game like that because of him making a play for us, it’s kind of heartbreaking," said Richardson.
"A lot of people notice that and they can feed off that type of energy, seeing a guy like that breaking down. So I just try to do my best, do my part to go communicate with them, talk with them let them know that we’ve got the game, and we’re going to control it for them.”
Florida was unable to control the game with or without Miller on Saturday, offering Vanderbilt its second SEC victory in not only as many weeks but since 2019 by a score of 31-24.
The Gators could certainly utilize Miller — who has accumulated 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles this year — against the nation's No. 16 team offense in the Seminoles on Saturday. The depth pieces behind him at linebacker will have to hold things down for the first 30 minutes of the contest, though.
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