Starting QBs ready to go for Gamecocks, Gators
South Carolina's Connor Shaw is feeling better, as is Florida's John Brantley. It's time to play football.
Fans on both sides have spent much of the week worrying about their banged-up quarterbacks, but both are expected to start Saturday when No. 15 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) and Florida (5-4, 3-4) close out Southeastern Conference play at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The status of Shaw and Brantley seemed very much in doubt after last weekend.
Shaw, a sophomore, sustained a concussion in a 44-28 loss to Arkansas, but was cleared by doctors to practice this week and play. Brantley missed two games earlier this season with a badly sprained right ankle and briefly lost feeling in his throwing hand after a fourth-quarter hit between his shoulder and elbow in the Gators' 26-21 win over Vanderbilt.
Brantley, a senior, was back at practice Tuesday and has continued to prepare for this weekend's contest.
''Having John back makes us that sort of offense that we want to be,'' first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp said. ''That's where we're headed and that's what we're looking forward to displaying there in Columbia.''
If so, the Gators might be tough to slow down. South Carolina's defense looked as bad as it had all season at Arkansas, torched for 435 yards. It was just the second time this season the Gamecocks have allowed an opponent more than 400 yards.
South Carolina had kept itself in charge of the SEC Eastern Division chase with a combination of strong defense and just enough offense to win tight games at Mississippi State and Tennessee. That formula fell apart against the Razorbacks, though Shaw's second rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter drew the Gamecocks within 30-28.
Despite the loss, South Carolina still has a chance to return to the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship game. It must defeat Florida - something it's done just twice in 19 meetings since joining the SEC - and then hope Georgia loses to Auburn or Kentucky down the stretch.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier recognizes the team he'd put together at the start of the season bears little resemblance to the one taking the field on Saturday.
''Actually, when you look at the way our team has played this year, you've got to say, `Hey, those guys are 7-2 and they're in position to really achieve some stuff this year,''' Spurrier said. ''We've got to play one of our best games, get some fire and emotion.''
Losing Shaw would've taken some of that away even before kickoff. The sophomore took over for fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia last month, and then was Spurrier's lone experienced option once Garcia was dismissed from the program.
The Gamecocks' offense took another big hit at Mississippi State when tailback Marcus Lattimore, who led the SEC in rushing for much of the year, was lost with a knee injury. Lattimore is awaiting surgery.
Freshman Brandon Wilds looked like the answer when he rushed for 137 yards against Tennessee two games ago. But Wilds struggled - along with the rest of the offense - and had just 21 yards in the Arkansas loss.
''We could definitely get a little better,'' receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. ''But we're 7-2 and trying to be 8-2 this weekend.''
History is not on South Carolina's side. The Gamecocks clinched the SEC East a year ago down at The Swamp, a satisfying 36-14 romp that seemed to signal South Carolina's rise in the SEC. But the Gamecocks' only back-to-back wins in the series came in 1936 and 1939.
And now, it looks as though Florida's rounding into offensive form.
The Gators broke a four-game losing streak with the Vanderbilt win and hope to qualify for a bowl game by defeating the Gamecocks. Up next is Furman, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, before the season finale with Florida State.
Along with Brantley, the Gators' offense is also expecting Chris Rainey to be back after missing last week's game with an ankle problem. Rainey and Jeff Demps make up one of the SEC's top rushing combinations, the two pairing up for more than 1,000 yards this season.
A strong finish could be just what the Gators need for Muschamp to bring them back to the top of the SEC East.
''If we do win out I'll feel like it's a very successful season,'' receiver Andre Debose said.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.