COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s biggest job this week is ignoring Florida’s free fall.
The Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) look to finish with a winning SEC record for the first time since 2013 when they take on the Gators (3-5, 3-4) on Saturday. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has watched the film, sometimes in amazement, of Florida’s past two games, in which the Gators gave up more than 40 points in consecutive losses to Georgia and Missouri.
He’s not convinced, however, that the Florida defense he expected to see all season won’t return.
“They have a great defense,” Bentley said Tuesday. “That’s one thing that we can’t do, look at the score from the Missouri game or any other game and think that they’re not a great defense. They’ve got a lot of great players on the team. So we’ve got to come in ready to play and be really locked in.”
The Gators were expected to challenge for the SEC East. Instead, suspensions, injuries and struggles on offense and defense — they are 111th nationally in offense and 47th in defense — led to the school parting ways with coach Jim McElwain in his third season.
South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore, a senior, won’t let younger players ease up a bit because they’ve heard about and seen Florida’s recent struggles.
“We haven’t fed into any of that,” Moore said. “We know what Florida is. What an SEC East game is. What they’ve put on film in the past doesn’t say how they’re going to play against us. We’re going to be prepared.”
If second-year Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp feels vindicated or troubled by Florida’s turmoil, he’s not saying.
“Having been through it, it’s a difficult time, but the sun will come up tomorrow morning,” said Muschamp, who’s still receiving Florida payments from his separation three years ago. “But I know it’s a difficult time for him right now. I hurt for him.”
But this week is about the Gators on the field, Muschamp said, and not about worrying over issues he can’t control.
“Obviously, Florida’s been through a lot of adversity this year,” he said. “Some suspensions to start the year, critical injuries that they’ve had throughout the year and obviously, losing the head football coach. I know it’s probably taken its mental toll. But they’ve still got some good players and a lot of talented players on the football field.”
Florida interim coach Randy Shannon said his team has work to do after the past couple of weeks. “You just can’t accept ‘oh we’re a lot better than we were’, no we’re not a lot better,” he said. “We’re better than we’ve been, but guess what, you have to take that next step.”
Muschamp believes his players have progressed throughout the year despite injuries to critical playmakers like senior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and junior receiver Deebo Samuel, both of whom were hurt against Kentucky in September and were lost for the season. Samuel, who still leads the Gamecocks with six touchdowns, announced this week he would return for his final year, something Allen-Williams stated soon after his departure.
It’s just more positives for a program that Muschamp hopes is poised for even bigger gains ahead.
“They see what we’re building, they see what’s happening, they see the support that we have and they want to be Gamecocks and that’s exciting,” Muschamp said.
The progress can take another step forward with a win over the Gators.
“I think our guys have a pretty good understanding that every week is a season and you have to invest each week to get the result that you want on game day,” Muschamp said.