Florida needs one more victory to become bowl eligible under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, but there is no doubt that this season has been a disappointment so far. The Gators are a mediocre 5-4, and their 3-4 SEC record isn't what fans of the program have come to expect. Last weekend, UF did find a way to halt a four-game skid with a 26-21 victory over visiting Vanderbilt, so it will be interesting to see if Muschamp's group can build on that effort.
"We need to understand where we're going from here on out and notice where we're going," said Muschamp after the Vanderbilt win. "I have seen improvement and some steps back, too. The point of the game is to win, and that's the goal."
This game is significant for South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier because of his legendary past as both a player and coach at Florida. Spurrier's Gamecocks enter this game with a 7-2 record and are eager to shake off the disappointment of last week's 44-28 setback to Arkansas. That defeat halted a three-game win streak and knocked the squad out of first place in the race for the SEC Eastern Division title.
"It's one loss, it's a game we didn't play our best," said Spurrier after the setback to Arkansas, acknowledging that the Razorbacks were better in all three phases of the game.
Florida owns a commanding 23-5-3 series lead over South Carolina, but the Gamecocks beat the Gators last season by a 36-14 final.
The Gators played without star tailback Chris Rainey in last weekend's game against Vanderbilt, but he does figure to return this weekend from his ankle injury. In his absence, Jeff Demps ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores, helping the Gators post 410 total yards. As for starting quarterback John Brantley, he suffered an arm injury and is listed as questionable for Saturday's clash. Jacoby Brissett would likely fill in if Brantley can't go.
Through nine outings, Florida is scoring 26.0 ppg while generating 345.8 total ypg. Of the 22 offensive touchdowns that the Gators have notched, 15 have come via the ground attack. Rainey has run for 526 yards and two scores while leading the team with 20 catches for 305 yards. As for Demps, he has rushed for six TDs and averages a gaudy 7.1 yards per rushing attempt. Brantley has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards and six scores.
UF could have played better defensively against Vanderbilt, as the Commodores were permitted to generate 377 yards with three offensive touchdowns. The Gators didn't come up with a single takeaway and notched just one sack, so there was a glaring lack of big plays.
Opponents are posting 19.7 ppg against Florida, which is permitting 306.1 total ypg. The Gators have been solid against the run, yielding a mere 3.4 yards per rushing attempt, but the pass defense hasn't been nearly as impressive, permitting 11 TDs with only five INTs. The fact that UF has managed just eight takeaways in nine games helps explain the 5-4 record.
It remains to be seen if South Carolina Connor Shaw will be able to play this weekend, as he suffered a concussion last week and is listed as questionable. With star tailback Marcus Lattimore already out for the season and QB Stephen Garcia dismissed from the team last month, the Gamecock offense can't afford another loss. Shaw attempted 25 passes against Arkansas last week, connecting on 16 of those for only 128 yards with no TDs and one interception. He did score twice as a runner, however, and the team would suffer without him in the lineup.
Arkansas racked up 435 yards against South Carolina, more than doubling the total generated by the Gamecock offense. Spurrier's group played fairly well against the run, but the fact that the Razorbacks posted nearly 15 yards per pass completion is proof that too many big plays were surrendered through the air.
South Carolina is generating 29.9 ppg this season while averaging 368.1 total ypg. The Gamecocks have scored 20 of their 31 offensive touchdowns on running plays, although the offense isn't nearly as potent without Lattimore, who is one of the best players in the nation at his position. The same was thought of WR Alshon Jeffery heading into this campaign, but his 36 catches for 487 yards and five touchdowns are a far cry from what was expected. Shaw has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 710 yards with six TDs and four picks.
Opponents are scoring 20.1 ppg against South Carolina, which is yielding only 284.9 total ypg. The Gamecocks are tough against the run, permitting just 3.6 ypg, and opposing quarterbacks have barely completed 50 percent of their passes against Spurrier's defense.