Florida seeks bowl eligibility in home finale
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) No matter what Florida does Saturday, it won’t really change the season.
Sure, the Gators can end a three-game losing streak at Florida Field, become bowl eligible and give 22 seniors and fired coach Will Muschamp an enjoyable home finale.
But none of those would redefine Florida’s year, which will be remembered for continued offensive failures, late-game meltdowns and Muschamp’s dismissal.
”Certainly had our opportunities and we didn’t get it done,” Muschamp said.
The Gators (5-4) should be able to get it done against lower-division Eastern Kentucky (9-2), a team from the Football Championship Subdivision. The Colonels are 0-4 all-time against the Southeastern Conference and 7-20 against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Then again, Florida lost to lower-division Georgia Southern last year and is coming off a tumultuous week. Muschamp was fired Sunday, less than 24 hours after the team’s sixth loss in its last eight home games.
Now, the Gators are trying to regroup for their home finale.
”We’re playing for each other,” center Max Garcia said. ”It’s senior night. This is my last time running onto Florida Field, so I want to go out the right way. We’re playing for each other. We’re playing for Muschamp. We’re playing for Gator Nation. Nothing has changed.”
The Gators have lost 13 of their last 19 games, none more troubling than the last two in Gainesville.
Missouri used six turnovers and two special teams touchdowns to rout Florida 42-13 last month. South Carolina blocked a field goal and a punt in the final three-plus minutes to upset the Gators 23-20 in overtime last week.
Florida parted ways with Muschamp the next day, but he will stick around to coach the final two regular-season games. His farewell tour starts against Eastern Kentucky and concludes next week at rival Florida State.
”It’ll be an emotional game,” linebacker Mike Taylor. ”The main goal is to get the victory and go out as a winner in the Swamp, honor all the people who have supported us, who have cheered for us, honor all the people who came in with us and are still here. Just putting all of that together and going out on Saturday.”
Here are some things to know about Eastern Kentucky and Florida heading into the game:
KEY MATCHUP: For Eastern Kentucky to have any chance to win, it has to find success on the ground. The Colonels average 243 yards rushing. Florida, meanwhile, ranks second in the SEC and 13th nationally against the run. The Gators are allowing 114 yards a game on the ground and have given up just 30 runs of 10-plus yards.
FOWLER’S FINALE: In addition to Muschamp, most or all of his staff and nearly two dozen seniors, this will be the final home game for junior defensive end Dante Fowler. Fowler announced Tuesday that he’s entering the NFL draft. He’s expected to be a first-round draft pick. Defensive tackle Jon Bullard, running back Matt Jones and linebacker Antonio Morrison, all juniors, also could leave early.
MOBLEY’S MOMENT: Eastern Kentucky junior Dy’Shawn Mobley, who transferred from Kentucky after last season, set a school record with six touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving) last week against Murray State. Mobley ran 40 times for a career-high 224 yards.
INJURIES: Florida is down two linebackers for the rest of the season. Starter Neiron Ball and backup Jarrad Davis both had knee surgery this week to repair torn meniscus sustained against the Gamecocks. Ball also had micro-fracture surgery and will be sidelined at least four months.
COACHING STOP: Muschamp served as Eastern Kentucky’s defensive backs coach in 1999, working under Hall of Famer Roy Kidd. ”A great man, a wonderful man I got a lot of respect for,” Muschamp said.