Saturday, November 16, 7 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Florida Gators hope to put an end to their nightmarish run on Saturday evening in an SEC Eastern Division clash with the 11th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium.
After a 4-1 start to the season, Florida has fallen flat with four consecutive losses. The Gators reached a new low last Saturday in their Homecoming matchup with Vanderbilt with a 34-17 loss, marking their fourth straight setback. Not only was it the team's first loss to Vanderbilt in 22 years, but it marked the first time UF has been under .500 this late in the season since 1979.
"We've got to get the ball bouncing our way," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "You've got to create opportunities -- Self-evaluate where you are as a coach and a player and make improvements. That's what we're going to do ... Right now we're a very fragile football team. When negative things happen, we kind of snowball it a little bit defensively, offensively and in special teams."
Even though South Carolina didn't play last week, it was still able to creep up in the polls from No. 13 to No. 11. The Gamecocks have won two in a row over Missouri (27-24 in double overtime) and Mississippi State (34-16), and while they are still a game behind the Tigers for first place in the SEC East, an earlier victory over Mizzou will give the Gamecocks the edge if the Tigers were to lose a conference game down the stretch.
"I think we need to go back and get a little more physical in practice," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It seemed like we were a little too soft (versus Mississippi State) ... (but) we're a pretty good team and it was neat to see our defense rise up and do some very good playing."
Florida has had the upper hand in the all-time series, going 24-6-3 against the Gamecocks, which includes wins in 19 of the last 22 meetings.
The Gators' struggles this season can be directly attributed to their underachieving offense, which ranks 13th in the SEC in scoring (20.6 ppg) and dead last in yardage (335.7 ypg).
Since losing Jeff Driskel for the season with a leg injury back in September, the team has turned to Tyler Murphy under center, and he has responded by completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards with nine touchdowns (three rushing) and five interceptions. Murphy will try to recover from the worst game of his career, as he threw three picks and was sacked five times versus Vanderbilt
"I wouldn't say it's affecting me at all," Murphy said of a shoulder injury that's been bothering him. "I don't make excuses. I didn't play well."
Mack Brown leads the team with 432 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but he's doing so on just 3.7 yards per carry. Kelvin Taylor (295 yards, two TDs) has been earning more touches in recent weeks.
The production at wide receiver has been evenly distributed between Trey Burton (37 receptions, 421 yards), Solomon Patton (34 receptions, 481 yards) and Quinton Dunbar (32 receptions, 469 yards). But while Burton and Dunbar have combined to catch just one touchdown pass, Patton has reeled in four.
The silver lining for the Gators this season has been the strong play of their defense, which ranks 16th in the nation in scoring yield (19.0 ppg) and fifth in total defense (278.8 ypg). The unit's standout performers include Dante Fowler, Jr. (8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Vernon Hargreaves (three INTs), Brian Poole (two INTs) and Loucheiz Purifoy (INT, FF, blocked kick), although Dominique Easley, Antonio Morrison, Nick Washington and Jeremi Powell have all been lost for the season with injuries.
While not always flashy, South Carolina's offense has played very well this season, putting up 32.1 points and 456.4 yards per game, and the unit is led by its dual-threat senior quarterback.
Connor Shaw has battled through a few injuries of his own to put together an outstanding campaign. Not only is he completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for 1,655 yards with 18 touchdowns against only one interception, but he has racked up 375 rushing yards as well with three more scores.
Mike Davis is a true workhorse in the backfield, turning 166 carries into an SEC-best 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Shaw doesn't have one go-to guy at receiver, but Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and Davis all have at least 21 receptions. Byrd leads the way with 485 yards, while Ellington has scored five touchdowns.
The Gamecocks are not living up to their lofty preseason expectations on defense, but they are nonetheless having an effective campaign on that side of the ball, allowing just 22.1 points per game.
Jadeveon Clowney, a unanimous All-American in 2012, has received extra attention from opposing offenses this season and he has not responded well, tallying just a pair of sacks in eight games. Luckily, Kelcy Quarles has been able to pick up the slack with 11.0 TFL and 7.0 sacks. Victor Hampton had eight tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on Nov. 2 against Mississippi State to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"It's a confidence builder, but I've always been a confident guy" Hampton said. "It just shows that if you work hard, put in the work, preparation, and everything like that, good things will come to you. But I'm not satisfied. I'm going to try and get another win."
Florida appears lost at this stage of the season, and while injuries have certainly played a big part, Muschamp's seat gets a little warmer with each passing loss. With South Carolina playing at home, expect it to take care of business as the Gators' downward spiral continues.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 23, Florida 13
11/14 16:03:53 ET