Florida-South Carolina Preview
All of the Florida Gators' season goals are still out in front of them. Given how they earned their latest win, they are trying to keep their minds from wandering too far down the road.
With the dream of a College Football Playoff berth seemingly still on the table, the 11th-ranked Gators will try to clean up their play Saturday while closing their conference schedule at South Carolina.
Florida (8-1, 6-1) already has an SEC East title under its belt, but will try to keep alive its bigger aspiration of a national title. Standing in the way are the last-place Gamecocks - winners of four of the last five meetings - Florida Atlantic, No. 19 Florida State and a conference championship matchup, likely against either No. 3 Alabama or No. 9 LSU.
Florida earned a spot in the Dec. 5 game in Atlanta thanks to an ugly 9-7 home victory over Vanderbilt last Saturday, a win that clinched the Gators' first division title since 2009 but uncovered some serious question marks.
"That's not really our ultimate goal," cornerback Brian Poole said. "Our ultimate goal is a national championship. It's kind of good to get that out of the way, but now it's back to focusing on the bigger picture. We're the Gators. We want to win national championships, not just the SEC East championship."
A late 43-yard field goal from Austin Hardin saved an otherwise pitiful showing from Florida's offense, which finished with 258 total yards and four turnovers. The Gators ran for just 93 yards on 34 attempts for an average carry of 2.7, lowering their yards per carry to an SEC-low 3.2 since the calendar turned to October.
"Oh man, we felt we embarrassed ourselves because we know we're way better than that," junior tailback Kelvin Taylor told the team's official website. "A bunch of the little things we were doing wrong; just not properly communicating with each other and just going through our different schemes that we usually go through. It just wasn't clicking for us."
Stacking up against South Carolina's defense should help. The Gamecocks have surrendered an SEC-high 5.2 yards per rush this season and 17 touchdowns on the ground. They allow 208.3 rushing yards per game, a number Florida has only topped twice.
South Carolina also ranks toward the bottom of the conference by coughing up 428.0 total yards and 27.3 points per game.
Flip over to Florida and the defensive numbers rank toward the top of the SEC at averages of 288.8 yards and 14.6 points. That side of the ball, led by SEC defensive player of the week Alex McCalister, has the Gators with a shot at double-digit wins for just the second time since 2009.
South Carolina (3-6, 1-6) is stuck at the bottom of the East after losing four of five games. All four losses came on the road, but the Gamecocks return to Williams-Brice Stadium where they are 2-1.
Another source of motivation is South Carolina's 4-1 record against Florida in the last five years and two consecutive home wins. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 23-20 in overtime in Gainesville last season and 19-14 in Columbia two years ago.
"They're certainly not going to overlook South Carolina," said interim coach Shawn Elliott, who took over when Steve Spurrier resigned in October. "They know they've got to finish strong and we know what kind of challenge it's going to be for us to take on their football team this week."
The Gamecocks could catch a break with the Gators' defense missing a few key players. Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (arm) and safety Keanu Neal (foot) are doubtful while defensive tackle Joey Ivie (knee) is out.