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Florida remains ahead in the SEC East race with win over South Carolina

Will Muschamp didn't get revenge on his old team as Florida easily dispatched South Carolina to remain ahead in the SEC East race.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite a slew of injuries, Florida did not suffer a case of Muschamp’s Revenge on Saturday. Here are three thoughts from a 20–7 Gators win against former Florida coach Will Muschamp’s South Carolina team.

1. Florida’s injuries piled up, but the Gators still shut down the Gamecocks.

Florida came into the game without starting quarterback Luke Del Rio (shoulder), center Cam Dillard (knee), defensive end CeCe Jefferson (foot) and linebackers Jarrad Davis (ankle) and Alex Anzalone (arm). By the end of the first quarter, the Gators also had lost backup center Tyler Jordan (lower leg), star safety Marcus Maye (shoulder) and starting left tackle David Sharpe (lower leg).

While that list looks ominous with a trip to LSU on the horizon, it didn’t stop Florida from dominating the Gamecocks on Saturday. Redshirt freshman T.J. McCoy filled in admirably at center, and backup quarterback Austin Appleby showed off his arm and his legs as the Gators showed far more life offensively than they did in a 31–10 loss at Arkansas. Appleby put Florida in position to score its first touchdown with a 33-yard gain on a first-quarter read-option play. He wound up completing 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. A week after they gained only 12 rushing yards, the Gators gained 171 on the ground. Meanwhile, Florida’s defense harassed South Carolina freshman Jake Bentley for much of the day. Through the first three quarters, Bentley completed 8 of 18 passes for 83 yards and was sacked five times.

Florida could have beaten South Carolina by even more, but a Mark Thompson fumble in South Carolina territory, an Appleby fumble in the red zone and an Antonio Callaway punt return touchdown called back for holding cost the Gators points.

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2. Florida can win the SEC East in two different ways 

The Gators can clinch the SEC East outright by beating LSU next week in a game postponed—and moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge—because of Hurricane Matthew. If the Gators don’t beat the Tigers, they still could win the East if Tennessee loses to either Missouri or Vanderbilt.

Florida would have clinched the East title Saturday had Kentucky beaten Tennessee in Knoxville, but the Volunteers beat the Wildcats to keep their division title hopes alive.

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3. The Gamecocks had their win streak snapped at three and were mathematically eliminated from the SEC East race.

They also eliminated the possibility of a six-way tie atop the East with each tied team finishing 4–4 in SEC play. Though that dream was denied, South Carolina’s quest to spend Christmas in Shreveport remains intact. A win against Western Carolina next week would make the Gamecocks bowl eligible.

South Carolina had several critical drops Saturday that could have made the game far more interesting in the first half, but its biggest issues were protecting Bentley and tackling the Gators in space. Those problems must be corrected through recruiting, but if the rest of the SEC East remains mediocre, the Gamecocks could be competitive in the division in 2017. After the game, multiple Florida players waited at midfield to greet Muschamp, who recruited most of the current Gators.