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The Gators seek to rise to occasion at No. 11-ranked South Carolina on Saturday night.

Friday November 15, 2013In Need of a Lift, Gators Face No. 11-ranked Gamecocks

The Gators seek to rise to occasion at No. 11-ranked South Carolina on Saturday night.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the aftermath of last week’s Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt, inside a disappointed Gators locker room, senior center Jonotthan Harrison told his teammates rather loudly the season is not over.

Other veterans such as defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and offensive lineman Jon Halapio have also spoken, urging the 4-5 Gators, losers of four consecutive games, to not dwell on the past but rather try to impact the future in a positive way.

They get their next opportunity Saturday night at Brice-Williams Stadium against No. 11-ranked South Carolina. The Gamecocks remain in the hunt for an SEC East title and trip to Atlanta, goals tossed out the window for the Gators since their last win Oct. 5 against Arkansas.

In what was a newsworthy week for the UF football program primarily because of what athletic director Jeremy Foley and school president Bernie Machen said – both stated they remain firmly committed to head coach Will Muschamp and his leadership of the program – Muschamp seeks action from the Gators.

Will Muschamp, Steve Spurrier

That means fewer turnovers, less penalties, smarter decisions and more big plays.

“We need to show it instead of talk about it,’’ Muschamp said.

The Gators’ loss to Vanderbilt turned up the volume outside the program; inside, players, coaches and administrators focused on the day-to-day tasks that must be performed to get a much-needed win.

That is the immediate goal.

Florida is under .500 this late in a season for the first time since 1979, when the Gators finished 0-10-1 in Charley Pell’s first season. That is the last time the Gators had a losing season. Their 22-year bowl streak is also in serious jeopardy.

The Gators need two wins in their final three regular-season games to become bowl eligible. They play at South Carolina, host Georgia Southern, and then close the season at home against No. 2-ranked Florida State.

To reach a bowl game, the Gators will have to at least pull one upset.

“We don’t want to go down as the team that broke the streak for the bowl game,’’ Jacobs told reporters this week. “We already feel bad about the Vanderbilt [loss]. We don’t want to be ‘those guys.’ That’s a bad feeling, knowing you’re the team that broke the streak. It would suck to be here and win four or five games, come up short.”

For the Gators to upset former UF coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks, they might have to rely on backup quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg. Starter Tyler Murphy spent most of the week in the trainer’s room getting treatment on his sore throwing shoulder instead of practice.

Muschamp said Murphy’s availability will be a “game-time decision” and that if he can’t play, Mornhinweg, a redshirt freshman from Philadelphia who up to this point is mostly known as the son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, will get the start.

Still, what ails the Gators is far beyond the Murphy or Mornhinweg question. Muschamp described the Gators’ mental state as fragile, especially when something goes wrong during a game.

Instead of overcoming a rash of early deficits during their losing streak, the Gators have been unable to rally other than in a 23-20 loss to Georgia when they fell behind 20-0 and nearly came all the way back.

“We’ve got to coach better,’’ Muschamp said. “We’ve got to find ways to put our guys in better position, better situations to overcome that -- the psychological battle of getting our guys in the right situations to be successful. That’s our job as coaches.”

Of course, the Gators have gotten no help from the injury gods. Muschamp announced earlier this week that starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is the latest player to suffer a season-ending injury. Morrison suffered a meniscus tear and underwent surgery on Wednesday.

True freshman Jarrad Davis, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound product of Camden County High in Kingsland, Ga., moves into the starting lineup with Morrison out.

Morrison led the team with 56 tackles but Davis has impressed coaches with his improvement.

“Watching the games, you all probably see it too, Jarrad shows up a bunch, whether it's on special teams or even the limited snaps he's had on defense,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He's about all the right things. He practices and works really hard, prepares himself well. He's going to get more opportunities and we're going to keep playing him more and more as we go.”

With the season down to its final quarter, expect to see more young players in the lineup. Muschamp praised freshmen receivers Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson for their late-season play this week, and freshman running back Kelvin Taylor continues to capably fill the void left by starter Matt Jones’ season-ending knee injury against LSU.

Halapio is interested in the way the younger players handle the current struggles. Muschamp and the players have said the team is still playing hard and has not checked out mentally, something the veteran players don’t plan to let happen.

“We definitely need to look out for that,’’ Halapio said. “I feel like maybe younger players would have that mentality. I know the older players are trying to keep the team together.”

Murphy agreed.

“We have to make sure that we stay on top of each other and make sure nobody gives up on the season because we still have three games,’’ Murphy said. “Things can get a lot worse if we do that stuff. We have to keep things going and try to find a way to pull two out of these next three so we can make a bowl game.”

As for Muschamp, in perhaps the most difficult week of his three years in Gainesville, he said not to worry about him. He is too occupied with trying to improve the team to let the outside distractions invade his office.

“I’m fine. I’m a football coach. I go to work every day trying to find ways to get this football team better,’’ he said. “That’s part of the job whether you’re 9-1 at this point or you’re where we are. It’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating, but you work and people are dependent on you to do a good job – do a good job for the players and do a good job for the university.

“That’s my job.”

 

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