After suffering a major non-conference scare last weekend, the seventh-ranked Florida Gators will be in for a lighter challenge on Saturday afternoon as they host the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
It has been a tale of two seasons for Jacksonville State in the FCS, as it has won all five of its home games but has lost four of five on the road. The Gamecocks have played a member of the SEC once already this year, losing to Arkansas in their opener, 49-24.
Having finished its SEC schedule, Florida hosted Louisiana last week and trailed late in the fourth quarter, but a Quinton Dunbar touchdown reception tied the game, then in the waning seconds of the game Loucheiz Purifoy blocked a punt and Jelani Jenkins returned it 36 yards for the game-winning score. It wasn't pretty, but head coach Will Muschamp ultimately knows that a win is a win.
"I thought we played well, we just didn't play smart," Muschamp said. "But I want to compliment our team again as far as their effort and resolve, that's the one thing that sticks out that they all have. They understand what it takes to win games."
The Gators have been eliminated from contention in the SEC Eastern Division, but they are still just one of 14 teams in school history to have started a season 9-1, and with a strong finish they will have a good shot at earning an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.
This game marks the first meeting between these two schools on the football field.
Jacksonville State averages 32.2 ppg, while showing very good balance between the run (205.8 ypg) and the pass (225.1 ypg).
Marques Ivory has been steady at quarterback. While he has completed less than 58 percent of his passes, he has thrown for 1,908 yards and 16 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Ivory has great chemistry with his favorite receiver Alan Bonner, who has caught 47 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. Bonner's yardage total is nearly as many as the team's next three top receivers combined (863 yards).
The Gamecocks tend to ride the hot hand between DaMarcus James (837 yards, six TDs) and Washaun Ealey (718 yards, 10 TDs) at running back, and they can't go wrong with either one.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville State, its defense allows more points than its offense scores (33.4 ppg).
Jermaine Hough is a versatile big-play threat on defense with six tackles for loss and three interceptions. Rashad Davis has been rock-solid up the middle with a team-high 84 tackles to go along with a sack and a pick.
The Florida offense (26.1 ppg) has been stuck in neutral lately, as it has put up just 50 combined points in its last three games (16.6 ppg), and to make matters worse it needs to deal with a significant injury to its starting quarterback.
Jeff Driskel completed 13-of-16 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 76 yards last week before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Driskel, who has accounted for 14 total touchdowns, has not been officially ruled out for this week's game, but the team will be ready to role with Jacoby Brisset under center just in case.
"Obviously things will change a little bit," Muschamp said regarding his offense with Brisset calling the plays. "We will run what we run. I approach all games the same way."
The good news for the Gators is that Brisset played well in the fourth quarter against Louisiana, completing 6-of-8 passes for 64 yards, including the game- tying touchdown.
Jordan Reed is coming off a five-catch, 85-yard performance last week, and he is the team's leading receiver (38 receptions, 456 yards, three TDs). Dunbar (24 receptions, 252 yards, three TDs) caught a touchdown pass from Brisset last week.
If Driskel can't go, Mike Gillislee (842 yards, seven TDs) will need to shoulder an even bigger load in the running game.
The Florida defense (12.9 ppg, 284.9 ypg) has been one of the nation's best, and it came up with a big play when it needed it most last week with the blocked punt for a touchdown.
The unit has forced 23 turnovers, paced by three interceptions apiece by Matt Elam and Jaylen Watkins. Those two along with Josh Evans (67 tackles, two sacks, two INTs) make up one of the best secondaries in the nation.