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Will Muschamp, Gators look to save their season as they face former Gator legend Steve Spurrier.
Will Muschamp and the 4-5 Florida Gators travel to Columbia to take on Steve Spurrier and 7-2 No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC East showdown at 7:00 pm ET on ESPN2. Suffice to say, this season hasn't gone as Florida fans planned. The Gators are currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak, fresh off back-to-back home losses. Things came to a head last week after an ugly 34-17 home loss to SEC East perennial basement-dweller Vanderbilt. While head coach Will Muschamp's seat is getting much warmer, all indications is that the seven season-ending injuries to starters that the team has endured will be taken into account, and he will likely return next year. However, the Gators need to win two of their final three games to qualify for a bowl game. The last time Florida missed a bowl was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's debut season at his alma mater. While the Gators finished 6-1 in the league they were ineligible for the postseason and SEC title. With their season finale against second-ranked Florida State, this game will likely determine whether Florida will see the postseason. South Carolina, on the other hand, is still within reach of overtaking SEC East leader Missouri as they sit just a half game back. If the Gamecocks win and the Tigers fail to win their final two games, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. A lot is on the line for both programs in what will be each team's SEC finale in 2013. The Gamecocks have won 15 straight at Williams-Brice Stadium, but Florida has won 19 of the past 22 games with South Carolina and owns the all-time series lead 24-6-3.
Three Things to Watch
QB Connor Shaw vs. Florida defense
Connor Shaw is 23-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback, one victory away from tying Todd Ellis for the school's wins record. The senior signal caller has turned in a stellar campaign posting 18 touchdown passes against just one interception. Shaw is also the Gamecocks second leading rusher with 484 yards and three TDs. He faces his stiffest defense of the year as the Gators lead the SEC in overall defense, while they boast of a conference rank of first in passing defense and second in rushing defense. After losing defensive lineman Dominique Easley for the season a few weeks ago, the Gators will be without linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was ruled out for the season earlier this week with a knee injury. Despite the numerous injuries, Florida still ranks 15th in the country in points allowed, giving up 19.3 per game. It is worth noting that the Gators have yet to face a dual-threat quarterback this year, much less one of Shaw's talent.
Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has flashed big-play potential at points this season in completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns. His problem? Turnovers. He has thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times. He threw a season-high three interceptions and four total turnovers against Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp preaches winning the turnover battle. In going 11-2 last season, the Gators were plus-15 with 30 takeaways. After last week, Florida is now at minus-2, with just 15 takeaways. Additionally, its defense's streak of 19 straight games with forcing a turnover came to an end. On the other end of the spectrum, Shaw has only thrown one interception. To be fair, Shaw has four fumbles and halfback Mike Davis has put the ball on the turf three times. A South Carolina defense that has disappointed this year has only produced 16 turnovers, including five they forced two weeks ago against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have been on the wrong side of the turnover differential in five of their nine games and are 3-2 in such games.
SEC's Leading Rusher
Running back Mike Davis became the Gamecocks first 1,000-yard rusher in three years in the last game against Mississippi State and has his sights set on the 1,149 yards that Marcus Lattimore gained as a freshman in 2010. Davis leads the SEC in rushing with 1,058 yards and has gone over 100 yards rushing in seven of his nine games. While Florida's rush defense has been impressive this season, it didn't look very strong in the red zone last week, as they allowed Vanderbilt to punch in three rushing touchdowns at the goal line.
Player to Watch: Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Taylor's emergence is one of the few positives that have come from the health problems in Gainesville. After the season-ending injury to Matt Jones, Taylor became the team's premier back. He received his first career start two weeks ago against Georgia, rushing for 76 yards on 20 carries, before his two-touchdown performance last week. Taylor is the centerpiece of the ground-heavy attack utilized by Muschamp and will be even more important if Murphy is out. For the Gators to be able to move the ball, Taylor will have to control the clock and grind on a South Carolina defense, which has shown to be vulnerable against the power run.
Injuries have destroyed Florida's mojo and with Tyler Murphy unlikely to play, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Florida offense can put up more than 20 points on Saturday. The Gators haven't missed out on a bowl game in 23 years and haven't had a losing season in 27 years. This will be the year both of those streaks will be broken. The Gamecocks will roll at home behind Shaw and Davis.
Prediction: South Carolina 35, Florida 17