In this week’s edition of Florida Football Friday Final, OnlyGators.com takes a look at the Florida Gators (5-3, 4-3 SEC) as they prepare to ride their momentum against the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-5, 2-5 SEC) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game will kick off at noon and air live on the SEC Network.
THIS WEEK ON ONLYGATORS.COM
Story: Freshman QB Treon Harris leading turnaround effort
Notebook: Will Muschamp breaks down Florida entering South Carolina game
Notebook: Kurt Roper pleased with Harris, offense’s balance
Story: Max Garcia emerging as one of the game’s best thanks to great coaching
Story: DL Jonathan Bullard’s sacrifices, team-first mindset paying off for Gators
Story: QB Jeff Driskel says benching was “tough,” but he’s happy to contribute
ONLY GATORS GET OUT ALIVE
Head coach Will Muschamp kicked it off on Monday, noting that he has made it a theme this week for the Gators to “take back The Swamp,” which is “what we need to do this coming Saturday.” Muschamp and Florida’s players understand that the team has let down its home fans during his tenure with the program. UF is just 17-7 at The Swamp over the last four seasons with a 9-6 record against SEC opponents and Florida State.
A number of players addressed what a victory in front Gator Nation would mean on Saturday. Check out what each of them had to say about it.
Redshirt freshman right tackle Roderick Johnson: “Considering the fact we lost to Missouri, not being able to come back and play a big game in The Swamp [the next week], we want to come back and get a big W and just get it back, reclaim it.”
Junior defensive back Marcus Maye: “Our last ballgames, we didn’t come out the way we wanted to. Our fans and our support is big. They support us, so we want to give them a good show and come out with a victory every time we play in The Swamp.”
Redshirt senior center Max Garcia: “We’re all about that. Our fans do deserve something to cheer for in The Swamp. We got to defend it. The Swamp is a place where other teams should fear coming into. Only Gators get out alive. We got to make that happen again. We got to take it back this game. Guys are going to go out there and, I feel like, lay it out on the line because we only have one more game in The Swamp after this. Especially me being a senior going out, only being able to run out of that tunnel two more times, we know that the time is running out and we only get so many opportunities. I feel like we’re going to go out there and just love to play the game with each other. We’re extremely happy that we get this opportunity to take The Swamp back.”
Sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood: “Last time we were in The Swamp, we didn’t perform close to what we could do. And the time before that, we also let down a lot of people. We want to show what we’ve been doing the last two weeks and put it all together in The Swamp. … It’s something in the locker room that we like to keep as far as playing in front of 90,000 people back at home – it’s always motivating. This time we just got to play how we’ve been playing the last few weeks and keep it consistent.”
FRIENDS, COACHES SQUARE OFF ON FLORIDA FIELD
When it comes to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, you may find no bigger fan among his peers than Muschamp. The embattled Florida program-leader is three coaches removed from Spurrier, an UF alumnus who was at the helm of the Gators from 1990-2001, but the two have grown close since Muschamp took over in 2011.
Sharing private jet rides to the annual ESPN coaches car wash and spending additional time together at all of the other gatherings of Southeastern Conference coaches that take place each year, Muschamp and Spurrier have become fast friends, which Muschamp had no problem expressing on Monday.
“I have great respect for Coach Spurrier and the job he has done as a coach and more than anything as a man. He’s a good guy. He’s been great to me as long as I’ve been at the University of Florida. I really look up to him in this profession. He does things the right way,” he said.
“He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s an outstanding football coach. He’s a Hall-of-Fame player and coach. We fly together to Bristol every summer, and [I] enjoy his company and the stories and the different things going through the years and talking about the Florida program and all that. It’s just a lot of fun; it really is. He’s been very supportive of me since I’ve been here, gone out of his way to support me and I really appreciate that.”
The feeling is mutual with Spurrier, who’s had Muschamp’s back on more than one occasion, including this season when Muschamp’s hot seat started to heat up following Florida’s loss to LSU.
Now set to be adversaries, as they are once each season, the attention turns away from each other and to what each is going up against on the field.
“Florida’s a very good team. They got their act together now. They got a solid quarterback, everybody on the team loves the guy, it seems like. He takes care of the ball, he can hands it off, and he can run it, and he can pass it. They got the quarterback position solidified,” explained Spurrier on Wednesday during the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
“Their defense has always been good, and it’s really good. I think it’s probably the best one we’ve played against this year. It will be a task for us, but we’re looking forward to seeing if we can go down there, compete, give it the best shot, and hopefully the ball will bounce our way.”
Muschamp holds a similar opinion, except about the Gamecocks’ offense.
“Offensively, they’ve been outstanding this year. The best offense we’ve faced, in my opinion, to date this season. … We’ve got our work cut out for us defensively, we really do, [against] a team that’s as balanced as they are, as good a job as coach does calling plays.”
Indeed, South Carolina is on pace to score more points and gain more total yards this season than any other in program history. Muschamp is not surprised, especially considering what Spurrier accomplished creating a high-scoring offense at Florida. “He has a statue outside of the stadium,” he said.
There is one more thing that connects Muschamp and Spurrier on Saturday: each could be playing his last (or second-to-last, in Muschamp’s case) game in The Swamp.
For Muschamp, it’s obvious. His team may be 5-3 and winners of consecutive games, but the Gators have failed to achieve true success during his four years with the program. A loss to the Gamecocks would drop UF to 1-3 against USC. Florida is also 1-3 against Georgia and LSU, and 1-2 against Florida State under Muschamp.
He understands and accepts the pressures – as always – but job security is certainly the last thing on his mind entering Saturday’s game.
“Nobody held a gun to your head and made you be a ‘ball coach. You’re the one that decided to coach, so you got to assume the responsibilities for moving your program forward,” Muschamp said.
In Spurrier’s case, a defeat at the hands of the Gators would push the Gamecocks to 4-6 on the season. South Carolina would never fire him for a down season, but Spurrier will be 70 in April may decide that enough is enough.
“I think it’s normal anytime a coach has coached as long as I have and it’s started to go downhill a little bit, those speculations come up. I just consider that part of where we are right now,” he said.
So could this be his last game in The Swamp?
“There’s a chance of just about anything in life, isn’t there?”
One way or another, Saturday’s final score could have rippling effects for both men and both programs. How it will all turn out, of course, remains to be seen.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Spurrier on playing at Florida: “Looking forward to going down to The Swamp. I guess we’re sort of lucky to be heading south this week. The cold air is all a little bit north of us, north of Florida, I guess. It’s coming in. It’s supposed to be pretty nice down there from what I understand. … It’s a little bit different [playing in Gainesville]. I look around the stadium a little bit, but when the ball is kicked off, it’s us against them, our team against their team. I’ll shake hands with Will before the game and then during the game, we probably don’t know who’s coaching on the other side particularly.”
» Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin on South Carolina being a test for Florida’s secondary: “They’re talented outside – they’ve got guys that can really stretch the field, and they like to stretch the field in their offense. They take shots down the field and [Dylan] Thompson can make all the throws. It’s a big test for sure.”
» Durkin on how the secondary looks without sophomore safety Keanu Neal (high-ankle sprain), who is ruled out for Saturday’s game: “The guys that have stepped in for him … they got to step up and do it, and they’ve done that up to this point. Obviously, it will be a test for all of them. It’s a different kind of game. I think they’re excited for it. They’re preparing the right way and they’ll go play well.”
» Durkin on the Gators’ pass rush, which is the best it’s been under Muschamp: “The guys that are doing things well for us; we kind of knew or at least saw that in them. We just obviously need to prove that on game day. … We still have to, in our four-man pass rush, do a better job at winning our one-on-ones and getting to the quarterback. But overall, I like their approach. They’ve been relentless about it. When someone’s number gets called to get in there and go do it, they do a good job with it.”
Photo Credit: Ryan Jones/The Alligator