With all the negative attention “weighing heavy on his heart,” Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes asked to serve a full-game suspension for apparently trying to gouge the eyes of a Georgia running back.
Coach Urban Meyer obliged, saying Wednesday that it was in the top-ranked Gators’ best interest that Spikes sit out Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.
“I really don’t want to be a distraction to the team,” Spikes said after practice. “I want the guys to prepare without any negative things going on, and I feel like if I would play, it would be a big thing going on. I’m just trying to stay out of the way and just motivate the guys.”
Meyer had faced some criticism for only suspending his star defender for the first half of the Vandy game. The Southeastern Conference accepted the original punishment.
Spikes stuck his hand into the facemask of Georgia’s Washaun Ealey during Florida 41-17 victory against the Bulldogs. There was no penalty called at the time, but after talk about the play spread, Meyer reviewed it and decided to punish Spikes.
Meyer, Spikes and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong agreed to increase the punishment.
“A lot of the negative things out there really weighing heavy on his heart right now and so we thought that, as a group, we decided the best interest just for the team to not play him Saturday,” Meyer said. “It was a group decision and we’re doing it out of respect to our team so we can focus on trying to win our ninth game.
“We think it’s the right thing to do. We support Brandon fully and we look forward to get back and finish the season the right way.”
Spikes is fourth on the team with 42 tackles and has three sacks.
He considered entering the NFL draft in January, but decided to return for his senior season in hopes of helping Florida win a third national title in four years.
But he’s battled injuries all season. He missed time early in the season because of an Achilles’ tendon injury, and sat out most of two games because of a strained groin. He played only a series against Arkansas on Oct. 17 and sat out the entire game the following week.
He returned against Georgia and finished with a team-high 10 tackles. He also intercepted a pass and returned it 5 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
What he did to Ealey, though, overshadowed one of his best games of the season. Meyer said Spikes was retaliating for things that happened earlier in the game.
Ealey defended Spikes on Tuesday, saying he didn’t believe he should have been suspended. Ealey also said he was surprised the play drew so much attention.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Stamper is expected to replace Spikes in the starting lineup.
“I’m pretty sure that Stamper got my back, and my teammates really support this decision” Spikes said.