Gators need first SEC road win at USC to avoid losing record

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Florida is back on the road tonight at South Carolina in a battle of 4-4 teams. 

The Gators have lost three of their last four games, including losses at Kentucky and LSU. Now they must win their first SEC away game of the season to avoid a losing record. 

“It’s always a tough environment to go play up there in night games at South Carolina. So big challenge for our guys,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We’re playing an excellent South Carolina team this week. That's what I’m focused on. I do know we have a big rivalry game at the end of the season coming up. 

Florida Gators at South Carolina for must-win game

“We have some tough SEC teams still to play. And in this league, if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every week, you can’t expect to win. So we got to bring our ‘A’ game and get ready to play these games.”

Florida running back Dameon Pierce is gang tackled by South Carolina defenders as he approaches the end zone during the Oct. 3 game last year at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

This weekend is the first of two trips to Columbia (South Carolina and Missouri) for the Gators, who will also host Samford and in-state rival Florida State. Florida should be favored to win all of its remaining regular season games and has a chance to go undefeated in November. 

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“I think it’s huge,” Mullen said of the opportunity to finish strong this month. “The winning momentum I think is huge. That’s always such a big deal. In all sports, momentum’s a huge deal. We’re dealing with young kids. 

“We have a lot of young players and momentum can carry them a long way. Momentum has a lot to do with the confidence they play with on the field. It’s really all about Saturday. It’s going to be important for us to find a way to get a win.”

This is the first meeting between Mullen and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer as head coaches. They have met five total times during their coaching careers, with Mullen owning a 3-2 record. 

They first squared off as assistants in 2005, when Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator and Beamer served as the cornerbacks coach for Mississippi State. The Gators defeated MSU at home.

The two faced each other in 2007 and 2008 when Beamer was at South Carolina on Steve Spurrier’s staff, and UF won both games. Mullen’s Mississippi State and Florida teams lost to Georgia (2017) and Oklahoma (2020), respectively, when Beamer was an assistant at those schools. 

“I've known coach Beamer a long time,” Mullen said of South Carolina’s first-year coach, the son of former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. “Obviously an excellent football coach from a great pedigree of coaching, and you see that. You see that in kind of the mindset in how this team has improved. You see it in little areas of how they buy in. 

“They make some big plays at key moments of the game, defense creates a lot of turnovers, they've blocked three kicks on the year. Obviously I think they've had to deal with some injuries similar to a lot of teams throughout the year offensively. But you've watched them do a lot of the little things and the competitive things that show the improvement this team has made since he's arrived.”

On the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday, Beamer said he’s been using wide receiver O’Mega Blake to simulate Florida quarterback Emory Jones in practice. After losing his starting job to Anthony Richardson for the Georgia game, Jones will once again be QB1 for the Gators at South Carolina. 

Richardson suffered a concussion against UGA and missed practice this week. 

“His character, his work ethic, his demeanor is unbelievable,” Mullen said of Jones. “You look at Saturday and very easily you can sit there and say, 'Hey, this is not exactly the situation that I was hoping to be in right now.' That wasn’t his case at all. We had a discussion (about Richardson starting), he said, ‘Coach, I'm 100 percent all-in, I'm ready to go, I'm prepared. You point at me to get in that game, I'll go execute and play.' 

“He came in the game, I thought he played really well on Saturday. So that’s why I have so much respect for Emory within his preparation, and I think he learned that from the other quarterbacks that were here prior to him. He's come in with an unbelievable attitude … whatever the situation is. ‘I’ve got to prepare for that situation, be ready to be my best.’ And it just shows his character and the type of young man that he is.” 

To get his first SEC road win as a starter, Jones will need to take care of the football against the Gamecocks. Last Saturday was his first turnover-free performance since the Tennessee game on Sept. 25.

UF is tied with Southern Miss for the most interceptions thrown in the FBS (14). Jones has 10 touchdown passes and nine picks, while Richardson has thrown five apiece. 

“Obviously the big one is turnovers. It’s a huge deal for us,” Mullen said. "We gotta find a way offensively we’re turning the ball over at an extremely high rate and doing all the little things. The attention to detail that way.”

Beamer isn’t offering any details about who he’ll start at quarterback. Grad transfer Jason Brown has been battling for the job with Zeb Noland, who started four games this season but had meniscus surgery a little more than a week ago. 

“We're not going to reveal any information of who's going to play,” Beamer said. “People can call it gamesmanship or whatever. Georgia didn’t announce who was starting as their quarterback last week. Florida didn’t announce who their starting quarterback was last week. They’re not announcing it this week.

“Zeb’s practiced each day this week, has continued to do a little more each day. We’ll see, as we get to Saturday, where he is and if he gives us the best chance to be successful. Jason Brown has had a great week and we’re fired up about him and his opportunity, if he gets that opportunity as well.”

Today

Who: Florida (4-4, 2-4 SEC) vs. South Carolina (4-4, 1-4)

When: 7:30 p.m. 

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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