Muschamp challenges Gators to 'take back Swamp'

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Forget bowl eligibility. Forget the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division race. Forget saving coach Will Muschamp's job.

The Florida Gators have one thing on their minds heading into Saturday's game against South Carolina: ''Take back the Swamp.''

Florida (5-3, 4-3 SEC) has lost five of its previous seven home games, including both last month. There was the 30-27 defeat against LSU, which included a dropped touchdown pass in the closing minutes and an interception in the final seconds that led to the winning field goal.

That was gut-wrenching, but it was easy to handle compared to the 42-13 drubbing by Missouri the following week. The Gators allowed just 119 yards but were walloped because of six turnovers that included scores on a fumble and interception. Florida also allowed a kickoff and a punt to be returned for touchdowns.

''The last performance was not up to par by any means,'' cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. ''We owe our fans one.''

Maybe even a few.

The Gators are 1-3 in their last four SEC games in Gainesville, with the only win coming in triple overtime against Kentucky.

Muschamp challenged his team to ''take back the Swamp'' this week and provide a better result against the Gamecocks (4-5, 2-5). Players insist they're ready to respond, much as they did in beating Georgia and Vanderbilt the last two weeks.

''Last time we were in the Swamp, we didn't perform anywhere close to what we can do,'' receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. ''The time before that, we let down a lot of people. This time, we're trying to just show what we've been doing the last two weeks and put it together in the Swamp.''

Florida's home-field advantage used to be among the best in college football.

The Gators went 68-5 at Florida Field under former coach Steve Spurrier, who nicknamed it ''the Swamp'' and built the program into one of the league's most formidable. The motto ''only Gators get out alive'' became part of the place's lore.

Florida hasn't been nearly as dominant since, with Ron Zook (13-6) and Muschamp (17-7) losing more home games in short tenures than Spurrier did in 12 years. Even Urban Meyer (36-5) equaled the total number of losses in just over half as many games.

Now, Spurrier returns to Gainesville for the fifth time as South Carolina's coach. Spurrier is 1-3 in his previous four trips, with the lone win coming in 2010. Spurrier joked after the game that ''sometimes the Gamecocks get out alive.''

''It's not an easy place to play, but all the SEC schools are pretty difficult,'' Spurrier said. ''Big stadium, loud, fans go crazy, certainly. It's mostly a real good team there with the noise and so forth, just like LSU, Alabama, Auburn.''

The Gators have plenty at stake Saturday. They need a win to remain in the hunt in the muddled SEC East. They also could become bowl eligible after missing the postseason last year, and a third consecutive victory could secure Muschamp's future at Florida.

But those are secondary to making the Swamp, well, a murky spot for opponents.

''Home games are - I don't want to say the most important - but they are important to keep our fans happy,'' receiver Latroy Pittman said. ''We take pride in it. This is our home. We want to come out and show the fans that we can win at home.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.