- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's come down to this: the once-mighty Gators playing spoiler.
All of their biggest goals have vanished, leaving Florida with two last glimmers of hope. They can upset SEC East rival South Carolina on Saturday night, which would likely end the Gamecocks' hopes of a division crown. A win would also go a long way to getting the Gators bowl eligible.
Florida (4-5, 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference) must win two of its final three games against No. 10 South Carolina, FCS Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State in order to extend the nation's second-longest active bowl streak to 23 years.
To do so, the Gators will have to react better to adversity according to head coach Will Muschamp.
"Right now we're not strong enough mentally to handle [adversity]," he said after last week's stunning loss to Vanderbilt. "A year ago, maybe early [this] year, we were. Right now, we're not. It's a 'woe is me' mentality right now. We gotta overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward, and we'll move forward with the guys who are wiling to accept challenges and opportunities that sometimes are difficult. Sometimes, they're tough."
Facing the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2) in Columbia, S.C., will certainly offer some tough challenges.
Headlining the list is star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a player who had all of the Gators defensive players and coaches talking and game-planning during the week. Next to Clowney is defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who is second in the SEC with 11 tackles for loss. They'll match up against a Florida offensive line that has been decimated by injuries.
"I don’t know if you stop Clowney," UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "I think you’ve gotta have a plan that makes him work hard. I mean, the guy is the best player in college football. He’s gonna make plays."
So is Steve Spurrier's balanced offense that averages 456.4 yards per game, which is on pace to shatter the school record (428.8 YPG in 1995).
Sophomore running back Mike Davis, the SEC's leading rusher with 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns, is the foundation. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw (23-5 as a starter) has tormented Florida in the past with his mobility and clutch throws. Speedy junior Damiere Byrd leads the Gamecocks receivers and has come on strong with 22 catches for 451 yards in his last six games.
"They're probably the most complete offense we've played all year in terms of all the different ways they can move the ball effectively," UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "They've got a really good running back. Their quarterback can run it and throw it. They have good receivers outside. Up front they're really big. They do a good job in both run-blocking and pass protection. They're the complete package, and it will be a great challenge for our defense on Saturday."
2dSam Khan Jr.