Florida Gators football looks to maintain its SEC East lead in its first home game in nearly a full month. And the Gators will try to do it against a familiar face.
Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Florida-South Carolina.
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: 74°F (feels like 74°F), 0 percent chance of rain, winds ENE at 6 mph
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
TV: CBS (Brad Nessler, Aaron Taylor, John Schriffen)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|Florida Gators||South Carolina Gamecocks|
|Head Coach||Jim McElwain||Will Muschamp|
|Record||6-2 (4-2 SEC)||5-4 (3-4 SEC)|
Four things to know
1. Enough is enough with this offense: OnlyGators.com columnist discussed this at length this week, but there are no more acceptable reasons or excuses as to why the Gators have not been able to find some semblance of offense in two years under McElwain. Yes, there have been obstacles, but Florida needs to get creative and figure out ways to put points on the board. And on Saturday that may include pulling a redshirt off a freshman quarterback, namely Feleipe Franks, who will enter as the No. 2 for the game.
2. Don’t underestimate the competition: It was somewhat of a joke when Muschamp was hired by South Carolina, but he’s out to prove the joke is on the doubters. With his hands off of the offense and trustworthy coaches by his side, Muschamp’s Gamecocks have won three straight games since freshman QB Jake Bentley took over as starter. This will be the toughest defense Bentley will have faced in his young career, of course, but he proved to be more than capable against a banged-up Tennessee unit … and Florida is most certainly banged-up as well (just not in the secondary).
3. Ultimately, it’s all about the defense: Despite all of the above, the Gators will once again be counting on their defense to step up and lead the way. Florida’s two losses this season have come as the defense has given up a combined 63 points. In six victories, it has allowed a combined 51. That does speak to level of competition, of course, but there should be no excuses on Saturday even with the Gators missing both starting linebackers and a key pass rusher.
4. SEC East is in their hands: Florida still controls its destiny. It can advance to the SEC Championship Game with a win over South Carolina and a Kentucky victory over Tennessee. Should the Vols win, the Gators will need to win both their remaining games against the Gamecocks on Saturday and LSU next week. Either way, the path is clear for Florida: win and get in.
Pick and analysis
Spread: Florida -12 | O/U: 37.5
For all of the Gators’ talent advantages in this game, injuries have really hurt both sides of the ball. Even if you didn’t like the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, he had been taking starter’s reps all season. Couple his loss with those of the starting center, both starting linebackers and one of Florida’s best pass rushers and you’re talking about an extremely limited roster. So there’s no surprise that this line dropped from 15 to as low as 10.5 before moving back up a bit.
Florida has won its last three games by an average of 15.7 points, and when you consider that one of those was a 26-point win over Missouri with 12 points coming from the defense, well, it shows you exactly what you need to do in this game. Yes, the Gators may be motivated to take it to Muschamp, but you can bet he and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have spent extra time in the office this week scheming against Florida. I see a 10-point win at best for the Gators. At worst, well, the Gamecocks can pull off the upset. Don’t think otherwise. Though the total is low and I would usually go with the under, something tells me the value is in taking the over this week.
2016 records: ATS picks 3-5 | O/U picks 3-5
Injuries and absences
Probable/questionable (3): WR Tyrie Cleveland (undisclosed), WR Chris Thompson (undisclosed), DL Justus Reed (undisclosed)
Doubtful (1): DE CeCe Jefferson (undisclosed)
Out (5): LB Jarrad Davis (ankle), C Cam Dillard (knee), QB Luke Del Rio (shoulder), WR C.J. Worton (undisclosed), RB Mark Herndon (undisclosed)
Out for the season (4): LB Alex Anzalone (arm), WR Dre Massey (knee), OL Antonio Riles (knee), DB C.J. McWilliams (undisclosed)
» Florida is 25-8-3 all-time against South Carolina and looking to win back-to-back games against the Gamecocks for the first time since taking four straight from 2006-09. The Gators are actually 19-3-3 all-time in the series when not opposing Steve Spurrier.
» UF’s defense has been a hallmark of the program; the Gators are 210-11 since 1990 when an opponent scores 21 points or fewer in a contest, including 15-0 under McElwain.
» Also under McElwain, Florida is 15-1 against unranked opponents and 1-5 against ranked opponents. UF is 13-0 when outrushing an opponent, 15-2 when scoring first and 13-1 when leading at half.
» The Gators own the nation’s longest streak of returning either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown, doing so in 12 straight seasons.
» Florida has the second-most wins in the nation since 1990 (255).
Offense: There will be five players on this side of the ball honored on Saturday, though none have necessarily lived up to expectations due to a variety of extenuating circumstances. Wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood has 40 receptions for 451 yards and two touchdowns in his career, while WR Chris Thompson has nine career catches (none this season) for 78 yards. Thompson, recruited for his speed, is finally getting his chance in the return game this season. Walk-on running back Mark Herndon has been much-ballyhooed throughout his career but has just 17 total touches for 147 yards (one for 78 yards), spending most of his time on special teams. Offensive lineman Roderick Johnson, whose career ended before the 2015 season after being diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, will have a chance to walk with his teammates. Also coming out of the tunnel will be graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby, who will actually get the start Saturday.
Defense: The heart and soul of Florida’s defense, linebacker Jarrad Davis has beasted for the Gators the last two seasons but will be unable to play due to an ankle injury. Safety Marcus Maye has steadily improved during his four seasons with the team and should now be an early selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Like Davis, LB Alex Anzalone has been a key for Florida’s defense as of late, though multiple injuries have derailed his career, including a broken arm that will keep him out the rest of 2016. Defensive linemen Bryan Cox Jr. and Joey Ivie have become key starters for the Gators during their career, seeing most of their snaps over the last two seasons. Finally, LB Daniel McMillian has struggled with consistency throughout his career but is now seeing the fruits of those efforts as he will move into a starting role with Florida for the remainder of the season.
Walk-ons: Jonathan Haney, Michael Iorio, Neil MacInnes, Mark Norvelis, Steven Stipe
Florida will wear blue jerseys, blue pants and white helmets on Saturday. The team captains, which change weekly, are responsible for choosing the uniforms ahead of each game.