Florida finally back playing in the Swamp, against a familiar face

Florida is 24-6-3 all-time against South Carolina but has lost three of the past four meetings.

Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nearly a month has passed since the Gators last played at home.

They would like to forget what happened on homecoming, but they can’t.

"The last time we were out there we got embarrassed and we don’t want to give that to our fans," junior linebacker Antonio Morrison said. "We want to just go out there and play a great game for our fans."

Florida’s 42-13 loss to Missouri marked the season’s low point. But rather than fade away, the Gators retooled.

Since that disheartening loss to Missouri the Gators have won back-to-back SEC games for the first time this season, upsetting then-No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville and cruising to a 34-10 win at Vanderbilt a week ago.

Quarterback Treon Harris, who replaced Jeff Driskel as the team’s starter, has provided a much-needed spark heading into Saturday’s showdown with South Carolina and the Head Ball Coach, Gators icon Steve Spurrier.

"They’ve got their act together," Spurrier said this week. "They have their quarterback position solidified."

Harris has been efficient and helped the Gators turn the turnover tide. Florida lost 15 turnovers in the four previous games prior to Harris taking over as the starter. In the two games since, the Gators have just one turnover while forcing five.

Florida is trying to stay alive in the SEC East race. The Gamecocks are trying to avoid a losing season for the first time under Spurrier.

Regardless, anytime the man who named Ben Hill Griffin Stadium "The Swamp" returns, it’s a big Saturday at UF.

Hana's Huddle

"Absolutely," Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. "Coach is a hall of fame coach, a hall of fame player. I have great respect for him, a guy I look up to."

Muschamp wants nothing more than to beat him Saturday. After all, following back-to-back losses at home, the Gators have one goal in mind: Take Back The Swamp.

For more on Saturday’s matchup here is The Opening Kickoff:

FIVE STORYLINES

— The Gators need help to have a shot at the SEC East, but to have any shot, they must defeat the Gamecocks. This is Spurrier’s fifth trip back to UF as South Carolina’s coach. He is 1-3, including a 44-11 loss in 2012, Muschamp’s only win in three matchups against Spurrier.

— Harris rejuvenated a team and fan base with his play at Vanderbilt, passing for 215 yards and running for two touchdowns. Harris threw for more yards in the win over Vanderbilt than any Gators freshman quarterback since Chris Leak in the 2004 Outback Bowl.

— Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson is no slouch. Thompson has thrown for 2,588 yards and 22 touchdowns, both marks second in the SEC behind Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill. Thompson threw for a career-high 402 yards in a 42-35 loss at Auburn two weeks ago, so he will test Florida’s young secondary.

— The South Carolina defense ranks near the bottom of the SEC in almost every major defensive category in the SEC, including last in total defense (460.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (34.1 points per game). Harris and the Gators should have some shots at big plays.

— The Gators have stated their mission to "take back The Swamp" on Saturday after losing to LSU and Missouri in their last two home games. Spurrier knows something about that. He started his UF coaching career with 23 consecutive wins at home before a loss to Florida State in 1993. The Gators are 17-7 under Muschamp at home.

TOPICAL TWEETS

And if you were not in the stands when Jarvis Moss blocked a potential game-winning field goal to preserve UF’s 17-16 win over the Gamecocks in 2006, here is what it was like in The Swamp …

CAST OF CHARACTERS

— True freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, and first-year safety Duke Dawson have played well of late. Tabor picked off his first career pass at Vanderbilt with a spectacular one-handed grab.

— Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard is playing the best of his career according to Muschamp. Bullard moved inside recently and has increased his production and allowed Bryan Cox Jr. to move into the lineup opposite fellow defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., where he has racked up four sacks.

More Florida Gators news

— South Carolina running back Mike Davis has 11 career 100-yard rushing games, tied for second on the school’s all-time list behind George Rogers. Davis has rushed for 819 yards, sixth-best in the SEC.

— Gamecocks sophomore receiver Pharoh Cooper is someone Florida’s secondary must stay close to all game. Cooper is second in the SEC with 51 receptions for 786 yards and eight touchdowns.

— Prior to his career-high 197-yard outburst against Georgia, Gators sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor had the best game of his career last season against South Carolina with 21 carries for 96 yards. Taylor has been given more of a role in the offense the past two week and has produced.

MUST-WATCH VIDEO

Muschamp sat down Sunday with former Georgia quarterback David Greene for an "SEC Film Room" segment for the SEC Network. However, before reviewing some of Florida’s 34-10 win at Vanderbilt the previous night, Greene reviewed an interception during Muschamp’s career.

It happened in the 1994 Georgia-Georgia Tech game won by the Bulldogs, 48-10, in Athens. Georgia Tech’s quarterback was Tom Luginbill, now an ESPN college football analyst. Sit back and enjoy Muschamp’s pick and dance.

QUOTE FILE

— "South Carolina’s got the best offense we’ve faced this year. They’re balanced, Dylan Thompson is playing at an extremely high level, which doesn’t shock you with what Coach has done with his quarterbacks in the past." — Muschamp on facing South Carolina.

— "I don’t know how to answer that, to tell you the truth. I’ve tried to sort of look in on the defense a little bit here and there and the other but, you know, I’ve been an offensive coach my whole career and that’s what I’m most comfortable doing." — Spurrier on South Carolina’s defensive woes.

— "We’ve always been tight, but since that Missouri game we really, really came together because we never want to put that on the field ever again." — Morrison on turnaround.

— "I ain’t going to lie … I get it from Dominique Easley, all the dancing and all that stuff like that. I just love football. I just love football. I grew up a big fan of football and it’s just my character." — Gators redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson on his emotional playing style.

— "Yeah, I would say that’s pretty ironic. It’s really funny when you think about it." — Florida receiver Latroy Pittman on the team’s motto this week with Spurrier coming to town.

HISTORY LESSON

With the possibility of his first losing season at South Carolina looming and his first losing season as a college head coach since a 5-6 record at Duke in 1987 — his first year — Spurrier has faced some questions about his future of late. Here’s a look at his past, the day he was hired to be a head coach for the first time (Nov. 22, 1982) …

10 QUICKHITTERS

— The Gators expect to have offensive lineman Trenton Brown (knee) and defensive tackle Gerald Willis (foot) back after both missed the Vanderbilt win. Starting safety Keanu Neal (ankle) is out according to Muschamp.

— Harris has completed 28 passes for an average of 18 yards per completion; Driskel has 97 completions for an average of 9.6 yards.

— Fifth-year senior receiver Quinton Dunbar had four catches for 97 yards at Vanderbilt, one yard shy of his career-best performance. Dunbar (photo, left) had gone three consecutive games without a reception after catching at least one pass in 32 consecutive games.

— Spurrier was involved in the game South Carolina scored its most points ever against Florida — a 36-14 road win in 2010 that clinched the SEC East for the Gamecocks — and Florida’s high-scoring game in the series, a 63-7 win over the Gamecocks in 1995.

— The Gators lead the overall series 24-7-3 and are 13-1 at home vs. South Carolina, the only loss four years ago.

— Through eight games under first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the Gators are averaging 30.5 points per game, an increase of 11.7 points over 2013.

— Senior center Max Garcia is having as good a season as any center in the country in Muschamp’s view. Garcia has started 20 consecutive games on the offensive line, more than double that of the next offensive lineman (Chaz Green, 8).

— Following a disappointing 2013 season when kickers Austin Hardin, Brad Phillips and Frankie Velez struggled to hit 54.5 percent of their attempts, Velez has made 11 of 12 and Hardin 1 of 2 — a career-long 49-yarder to beat Tennessee last month. Velez is now 17 of 20 in his career.

— Sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson has a team-high 546 yards receiving. Robinson needs only 11 yards to surpass last season’s leading receiver (Solomon Patton, 556 yards).

— The Gators have 20 sacks through eight games, an average of 2.5 per game. That ranks as the highest average under Muschamp. Florida’s 45 quarterback hurries have already surpassed its total in any season under Muschamp. The previous high was 33 in 2013.

BOTTOM LINE

The Gators are feeling good. So are their fans. To keep the good vibes alive, the Gators need to knock off the Gamecocks for their third consecutive victory and stay alive in the SEC East race. While Florida’s defense against South Carolina’s prolific offense is a matchup to watch, Florida’s offense against South Carolina’s defense is just as intriguing. Teams have exploited the Gamecocks’ D all season and with Harris gaining confidence, if he plays as well as he did at Vanderbilt, it could be a coming out party for Florida’s offense with Harris at the wheel.