Each Monday night during the football season, the blog will look ahead to South Carolina’s next opponent. This week, it’s Florida.
There was a time, before the season began, when big things were expected from Florida’s football team this fall. It’s easy to forget now. The Associated Press Preseason Poll serves as a good reminder.
That’s the Gators, ranked No. 10 — one spot ahead of Florida State. Florida was coming off a Sugar Bowl season, the second under coach Will Muschamp. An upset loss to Louisville in New Orleans was a surprise, but hardly a reason to damper expectations this season. The Gators returning quarterback Jeff Driskel and one of the best defenses in the country, much less the SEC. When August arrived, there was optimism, hope that maybe Florida could take the next step and win the SEC East.
Things haven’t turned out that way. Instead, cold, hard reality set in. Last season, Florida overachieved. With a thin depth chart, the Gators were only a couple injuries from disaster. Those injuries happened, disaster came, and two things highlight how far the program has fallen in 2013:
- Florida lost to Vanderbilt at home Saturday for only the second time in program history. The first came in 1945.
- At 4-5 with games remaining against South Carolina and Florida State, Florida is under .500 for the first time since Oct. 10, 1992. The Gators could finish with a losing record for the first time since 1979. They would miss a bowl game for the first time since 1990, Steve Spurrier’s first season in Gainesville.
So, it has become, that Florida is (gasp) a bad football team. How did it get here? What does it mean for Saturday’s game against South Carolina? Has the sky fallen in Gainesville? We’ll take a closer look below.
Who: Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC East) at No. 11 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC East)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) | Columbia
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Radio: Gamecocks Sports Network (WWIK-FM, 98.9 in Charleston) | Affiliates
Line: South Carolina -13.5 (Opened as South Carolina -11)
What to know about Florida: Let’s go back to those injuries. That’s where this dismal situation became the Gators’ reality. Things were going moving along swimmingly – remember, Florida was ranked in the top 25 until three weeks ago – until Driskel was lost for the season with a broken fibula against Tennessee. Three days later, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley tore his ACL and meniscus. Three weeks later, running back Matt Jones tore his meniscus. On Monday morning, it was announced linebacker and top tackler Antonio Morrison tore his meniscus. In all, the Gators have lost seven starters – including its starting quarterback, running back and two best defensive players – to season-ending injuries.
All-time series: South Carolina trails 24-6-3. It’s been as lopsided as the record indicates, with the Gators outscoring the Gamecocks by two touchdowns (27-13.2) on average.
When they last met: Florida 44, South Carolina 11. Oct. 20, 2012. It was a top 10 matchup with a lot of hype – Steve Spurrier returning to The Swamp to play second-ranked Florida – that ended with a lot of fizzle. Florida jumped out to a 21-3 lead, and the game was never close again. USC’s offense got nothing going. The Gamecocks had 36 rushing yards on 26 carries. Their passing game was 20-20, with Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson attempting 20 passes apiece – neither reaching 100 yards.
Which Gamecock is crowing loudest: Mike Davis. South Carolina’s sophomore tailback survived the bye week with the SEC’s rushing lead. His 1,058 yards are 20 more than Auburn halfback Tre Mason. Davis has a wider SEC lead with 1,384 yards from scrimmage, 121 more than second-place (Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans). There’s no reason to expect Davis won’t reach at least 130 yards from scrimmage for the ninth straight game Saturday, not with all those defensive starters in Florida’s training room.
Who’s keeping South Carolina coaches up at night: Well, there’s more than a couple players in the training room who could fit this description. As for on the field? While Florida has lost most of its top defensive players, sophomore linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. has continued to produce. Fowler can get into the backfield in a hurry. He ranks ninth in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss – the most on Florida’s defense – and has added 3.5 sacks this season.
Quotable: Steve Spurrier on the stakes for Saturday’s game: “It’s sort of a championship game, or it may not be a championship game. We won’t know.”