Florida’s second season under Jim McElwain has largely resembled a roller coaster ride.
The promise Luke Del Rio showed early built confidence high, but the streak ending loss to Tennessee sent the Gators plummeting back down to earth. Three wins and a healthy Del Rio later and the Gators were once again on the upswing- only to have their confidence suffer another free fall against Arkansas. And now Florida is a loss to South Carolina away from the season being completely derailed.
With 2016 dangerously close to becoming a failure, Florida has to simply regroup and get back to what they did well before last week. Simple, and obvious, I know, but it may make the difference between beating South Carolina and losing to them.
Austin Appleby will get the nod at quarterback after Del Rio suffered his second injury of the season, and that’s probably what most fans are going to be worried about. The key to the game, though, is not on Appleby’s shoulders. The Gators’ offensive line has to provide room for Jordan Scarlett and LaMical Perine to run, the way they did for the first seven games of the year and the way they did not against Arkansas. The Gamecocks’ defense is allowing 197.4 rushing yards per game, though, so there’s reason to hope- and believe- that Florida can.
Then there’s the question of stopping the Gamecocks’ offense, which seems to have been revitalized by the insertion of freshman quarterback Jake Bentley into the starting lineup. Florida’s defense has been good for most of the year, but not so much in losses to Tennessee and Arkansas. They’ll look to bounce back, too.
Really, though, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, Florida should win this game. They have the more talented team, even without Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis and Cam Dillard, are better coached and have much more to play for than South Carolina (an SEC Championship Game appearance).
But football is a mental game, too, and South Carolina has a hell of a lot more momentum than Florida right now. The Gamecocks appeared to have no shot at reaching a bowl game a month ago, but beating Tennessee put them in a great position to do so. For a program with no expectations to win more than five games this year, the chance to actually do it exists on Saturday.
Florida? Well, it’s Senior Day, meaning it’s the last time these seniors and NFL bound juniors will play in the Swamp. And it’s against the man who recruited them to Florida and coached them for a year or two. Let’s also not forget that the Gators still somehow control their own destiny to the SEC Championship Game, which we can add to the mix of things to play for.
So yes, they’ll be emotional for sure, but it’s hard to say whether it’ll be the right kind of emotion. Teams tend to go extreme toward one of three ways to react after a rough loss: they can play with a newly discovered fire and be that much more focused, they can be angry in a desperate kind of way and make foolish mistakes that stem from a lack of focus, or they can play despondent and lethargic, like they feel sorry for themselves. Different teams respond in different ways, and this Gator team will ultimately be remembered for how it chooses to respond on Saturday.
I implore you, Florida, to show up and bring your best game against South Carolina. Beat your former coach, and you can get this season back on track.