Beaten-up Gators go for broke against Gamecocks
Published: Friday, November 15, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida's Will Muschamp sounds like a reasonable coach when he talks about the Gators needing to do a better job of coping with their circumstances. What doesn't seem reasonable are the circumstances themselves.
Who: Florida (4-5) at South Carolina (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. on Saturday
Hopes and expectations have been squashed by injuries. The Gators have one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They have played only one home game in the last six weeks. Now, they walk into another lion's den — No. 11 South Carolina — not knowing for sure if starting quarterback Tyler Murphy (who is actually their No. 2 quarterback) will be able to play because of a painful sprained shoulder.
They are not good. But then they haven't been for a long, long time for this 4-5 team that now appears locked on a collision course with the school's first losing season since 1979.
Yes, things seem to keep going from bad to worse for the Gators, who continue to insist they will fight on to the end.
“We need to learn to overcome our circumstances,” Muschamp said. “That's something we have a hard time doing as far as a slow start, a turnover, and overcoming those situations.
“It's my job to get it right, and that's what we're working on.”
The biggest circumstance, however, is one Muschamp has no control over. The injuries. They continue to mount on a weekly basis.
Just this week, the Gators lost starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison for the season with a knee injury and may lose Murphy for tonight's game. Severely limited in practice by his shoulder, Murphy is expected to be a game-time decision.
If he can't go, the Gators will try to end their four-game SEC losing streak with redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, who has yet to play a down at Florida.
“We'll see (what happens),” Muschamp said. “Skyler's been taking all the snaps this week, and we feel comfortable with him.”
While the Gators are a wounded team, the Gamecocks are probably the healthiest they've been all season, according to coach Steve Spurrier.
“We're actually in really good health, I would imagine, for this time of the year compared to the other teams,” Spurrier said. “We've got just about everybody ready.
“Obviously, (the Gators) have had a rash of injuries all over the team that's really hurt them. They've still got plenty of ballplayers. They're a hard-nose, physical-type team.
“They're a very good team that has struggled a little bit at times. But they've got the No.1 defense in the conference and a whole bunch of good players and good coaches.”
The injuries have been devastating for the Gators, especially on offense, where five starters are out for the season, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, tailback Matt Jones and two of the top three tackles — Tyler Moore and Chaz Green.
The third tackle, D.J. Humphries, will miss his third consecutive game tonight with a sprained knee.
UF could be facing All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and one of the best defensive fronts in the SEC with a first-time starter at quarterback and a makeshift offensive line.
Tough circumstances, for sure.
“We can't blame everything on injuries,” senior center Jon Harrison said. “But injuries have played a huge role. It's tough playing without certain players. It's difficult playing next to people who you maybe haven't played next to as much.
“But it's a man-down, man-up principle, and that's really what we have to do and that's what we have to keep in our minds. Man down, man up, there shouldn't be a drop-off to the next person. That's what it should be.”
Murphy said earlier in the week he was not “100-percent sure” that he'd be ready to play in tonight's game. He was in the same situation heading into the Missouri game, but woke up feeling good the morning of the game and was able to play despite pain in his shoulder.
If Murphy can't go on Saturday, the Gators are ready to go with the next man up — Mornhinweg, the son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“He plays his game. I think he knows what he does well and knows what he doesn't do well,” offensive tackle Max Garcia said of Mornhinweg. “So, I feel like he's comfortable in managing the offense now. You can hear it in his voice when he's in the huddle and he's calling plays, you can see he's getting more confident back there taking the reps with the first team. I think his confidence has improved.
“I feel like he's calm, for the most part. And he makes the right reads he needs to make. You know, he probably needs to do a little more improvement making checks and stuff like that. But that just comes with experience. You can't really blame him for that.”
One circumstance that has improved for the Gators involves their beleaguered head coach, who has come under a lot of criticism from the fan base because of the disappointing season.
On Wednesday, Muschamp received full support from athletic director Jeremy Foley and school president Bernie Machen.
Now that the pressure (for the most part) is off Muschamp, maybe the Gators will relax and play a little better.
“Obviously, it's not an ideal season for how we wanted it to go. But we just have to keep fighting and keep battling adversity,” Harrison said. “Life is full of adversity. Life will throw curveballs at you. It's how you deal with them that makes you a better person.
“We just know that we have to keep fighting, that the season isn't done. Regardless of the circumstances or the outcome of the previous week, we still have to keep fighting and working.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.