South Carolina at No. 19 Florida: The Storylines

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks attempts to elude South Carolina defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum during the second half of last year's game in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Florida 28-20. [Sean Rayford/Associated Press]

Today

Who: South Carolina (5-3, 4-3 SEC) vs. No. 19 Florida (6-3, 4-3). The Gators are ranked No. 15 in the CFP.

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Vegas Line: Gators plus 6

All-time series: This is a series that cranked up when South Carolina joined the league in 1992. Florida leads the series 26-9-3.

Last 10 years: The teams have split the last 10 gamesm, but South Carolina has won five of the last eight against the Gators.

Last time they met: Florida went to Columbia, S.C., and hung in there, but the Gamecocks pulled out a 28-20 win.

Fun fact: Everyone remembers that thrilling 17-16 win for Florida in 2006 on the blocked field goal by Jarvis Moss. The next two seasons, Florida won by a combined 107-37.

What’s at Stake?

Quite possibly a spot in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Bowl president Rick Catlett says the winner of the game would be the clear front-runner to represent the SEC in Jacksonville.

Players to Watch

South Carolina: LB Bryson Allen-William, who leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries. Florida’s offensive line had one of its worst games last week against Missouri.

Florida: QB Feleipe Franks, who was benched last week for the third time in two seasons. Franks also lost his starting job two other times in 2017. Franks is back under center this week, and coach Dan Mullen had no other choice after backup Kyle Trask broke a foot in practice Wednesday.

The great QB question

The real intrigue surrounding this game Monday was what Dan Mullen would do with his quarterbacks. Would he start backup Kyle Trask, who came off the bench last week, and have Feleipe Franks ready to go if Trask struggled early? Would he stick with Franks, but bring out the quick hook if his struggles continued? Would he play all three quarterbacks — Franks, Trask and true freshman Emory Jones? Jones could end up playing, but it’s doubtful he’d be given the start. The plan is still to redshirt him, so he can play in two more games and still do that. The answer came Wednesday night when it was reported Trask broke a foot in practice. It is expected the more experienced Franks will get the nod.

The return of Coach Boom

Will Muschamp returning to The Swamp on the opposing sideline isn’t quite as big a deal as when Steve Spurrier did it with South Carolina. But it is still significant. In Muschamp’s first trip back in 2016, he was coaching what UF fans would call a typical Coach Boom team — offensively challenged. The Gamecocks scored only seven points in a 20-7 loss. The offense Muschamp brings to Florida Field today is much different. This is a potent and balanced USC attack that is averaging 31 points and 413.8 total yards a game. It’s an offense that can potentially inflict the kind of damage Missouri’s did a week ago. Muschamp beat the Gators last season. To do it again in The Swamp today would be huge for the guy who spent his early childhood in Gainesville going to Gator games and attending Oak Hall.

“I’ve got nothing but great memories of Florida,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, you don’t win enough games, they fire you. That’s part of our profession. There are no hard feelings. That’s just the way things go in that situation. I’ve got a great opportunity at South Carolina. I’m glad I’m a Gamecock.”

There are six current Florida holdovers from Muschamp’s tenure. Defensive tackle Khairi Clark, offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless, tight end C’yontai Lewis, kicker Jorge Powell, tight end R.J. Raymond and tight end Moral Stephens all signed with the Gators before Muschamp’s final season in 2014.

South Carolina has several other coaches who also worked at Florida, including linebackers coach Mike Peterson and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson.

“It’s going to be fun seeing all those guys (and) for the last time playing against them,” Raymond said.

Muschamp went 18-8 at Florida Field during his tenure, including losing six of his final eight. Throw in a 20-7 loss to the Gators in 2016, and Muschamp has dropped seven of his last nine in The Swamp.

Fans buying in?

Mullen continues to call out (or urge) Florida fans to stick with this team and give it the home-field advantage that can be so vital to UF’s success. But, with today’s noon kickoff, it’s probably going to be a tough sell — not to get tickets but for fans to buy in and show up. The Gators drew only 80,017 to Homecoming last week, and that’s usually a near-capacity crowd. Early kickoffs traditionally mean a late-arriving crowd and thousands of empty seats. That’s what is likely to happen today, which might leave Mullen wondering if the fans are going to be willing to do their part to make this a championship program again.

Key matchups

Florida’s suddenly suspect secondary against South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and his wide receivers: The depth-shy UF secondary might be a little gun-shy coming off two performances against Georgia and Missouri where the Gators gave up all kinds of big plays in the passing game. Sometimes coverages were blown. Other times, DBs were just beaten. The Gators are facing another potent passing offense today. Bentley is a proven quarterback who is averaging 238 yards passing a game. He’s good at spreading the ball around to his playmakers, especially wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith. The three have combined to catch 98 passes for 1,359 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. If the Florida secondary doesn’t tighten up its coverage, it could be a long day for the UF defense.

South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards vs. Florida CB C.J. Henderson. Edwards caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown last week against Mississippi and leads the Gamecocks with 556 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Henderson is Florida’s best defender, probably the team’s best player.

Swamp setback

Florida coach Dan Mullen has as many losses at The Swamp this season as he did during his first stint in Gainesville. The Gators are 3-2 at home. Mullen went 25-2 at Florida Field as the team’s offensive coordinator (2005-09).

Facts & Figures

South Carolina has won five of the last eight in the series — all with former Florida coaches at the helm — after losing 18 of the previous 19 meetings. … South Carolina has dropped eight straight against ranked teams. Its last win against a ranked opponent came Oct. 29, 2016, against Tennessee. … The Gamecocks are 3-0 this season when they win the turnover battle. … Florida was outscored by a combined 40 points in consecutive losses to Georgia and Missouri. … The Gators have just three sacks in their last three games. … South Carolina has won three of its last four games, all of them decided by four points or less.

Today’s game questions

• In the last two games, the UF defense has combined for only two sacks and two quarterback hurries. Will the pass rush be more productive against South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley?

• In the last two games, the Gators have come up with zero turnovers. Can they force some today?

• How does UF’s situation at quarterback play out?

• Both offensively and defensively, the Gators have struggled on the money down. Will they be better on third down?

• Can the Florida offensive line get the job done in pass protection, which has been an issue?

Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers

Andreu’s pick

South Carolina 31, Florida 20

(Season record: 5-4)


Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Well, that’s a gloomy outlook — I guess if we get lucky, 10 or 12 thousand people will bother to show up to watch us lose again. Then again, there might be a chess match going on somewhere on campus — or 2 for 1 beer at a nearby bar — so I suspect we ought not count on that many.

    I’m just wondering tho — what happens if we win? Apparently Our Lady of the Lake University has a better chance against the Chicago Bears, but what if we do luck out? Or better yet, South Carolina just forgets to show up?

  2. Well as is with every home game, I will be in the stadium cheering the Gators on. I hope they give me reason to still be cheering late in the game, unlike last week. It is tough being one of three or four people in the entire section still cheering late. Come on Gators, show up on fire and ready to dominate today!

  3. It is easier to revert back to ”what you were” than to press ahead and change yourself for the better.
    So today it’s on these Gator players, and nobody else! Coach Mullen & staff will get a pass just ’cause this is his 1st year back (as the H.C. now at U.F.). These Gator players’ heart and character is what’s on the line now, and nothing else (Gator Bowl bid? Really!?!?). Because the fans can’t cheer (as much as Coach Mullen would like it) as if Mizzou or a Carolina is a 5th ranked L.S.U. team.
    So it’s simply and completely on this Gator team to play like real Gators! And didn’t Coach Mullen say he’d ”make his players understand what that meant to be a Gator”!?!? Especially since the C.F. Playoff comittee thinks so highly of this Gator team, as they’re the highest ranked ”3 loss team” in the newest playoff poll at 15. So these Gators should act like it, and play like it! And I’m just one of many Hogtown natives hoping they do just that. Go Gators!

  4. The Banty Roosters beat the Vols by only 3 pts and the Rebels by only 4 (in their last two matchups). They did beat Mizzou earlier in the season. The biggest item in Robbie’s story line is turnovers. When the Gators force turnovers they come together as a team. If they show up ready to play as a team, they are better than SC.