With its offense sputtering at times, Florida hasn’t been quite as dominant as expected for a team that was an overwhelming pick to repeat as national champions.
Despite the struggles, coach Urban Meyer notes his team is undefeated.
Meyer’s top-ranked Gators, who have already clinched a spot for next month’s SEC championship, look to stay in the hunt for the BCS title game by finishing the conference season undefeated for the first time in 13 years Saturday at South Carolina, which is again experiencing a late-season fade under coach Steve Spurrier.
After finding some offensive rhythm on Oct. 31 in a 41-17 victory over Georgia to help clinch a spot in the conference championship, Florida (9-0, 7-0) didn’t look like the top team in the BCS standings in last Saturday’s 27-3 home win over Vanderbilt.
The Gators had 13 points at halftime and about of third of their 375 yards came late in the game - well after some fans headed for the exits. It was another lackluster win for Florida, which has also beaten Arkansas (5-4) by three points and defeated Mississippi State (4-5) by 10 in the past month.
“You’d like to put the ball in the end zone more and not kick field goals,” said Tim Tebow, who passed for 208 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score. “But we’re going to be happy being 9-0. Not too many teams in the country are 9-0.”
While the Gators haven’t looked overly impressive at times, they’ve won 19 straight since Tebow’s famous speech in September 2008 after a loss to Mississippi - no easy task.
“Have you ever gone 19-0?” Meyer said. “It’s not ho-hum, I can assure you that. If it’s ho-hum for someone, you’ve got to really reflect to say, ‘Where am I headed in this life right now?’ If 19-0 in the Southeastern Conference at the University of Florida is ho-hum, then you’ve got one exciting life, man, you’ve got a lot of good stuff going for you.
“I don’t ever want to take anything away from what those cats have done. Two out of three times we’re going to go play in Atlanta for the SEC championship in the best conference in college football. There’s absolutely nothing ho-hum about what this team is doing.”
Before facing Alabama at the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship on Dec. 5, the Gators will close the regular season with home contests against Florida International and Florida State—a combined 6-12 coming into this weekend.
First, Florida tries to finish undefeated in conference play for the first time since winning all eight league games in 1996 under Spurrier.
The Gators have won 17 of 18 against the Gamecocks with the loss coming in a 30-22 defeat at South Carolina on Nov. 12, 2005, Spurrier’s first game against the program he coached from 1990-2001.
Florida has won three straight over South Carolina since then, combining to score 107 points in the last two.
In last season’s 56-6 home rout, Tebow completed 13 of 20 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns and ran for another. The Gators’ vaunted defense limited South Carolina to just 173 yards while forcing four turnovers.
While Florida’s offense hasn’t always been in sync this season, the defense continues to be exceptional.
The Gators held the Commodores to 199 yards, hardly missing linebacker Brandon Spikes, who served a one-game suspension for an eye-gouging incident against the Bulldogs.
Spikes will be back for this game to lead a unit that leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense (10.1 points per game) and ranks second in total defense (232.4 yards per game). The 2008 first-team All-American had an interception against the Gamecocks last season.
South Carolina (6-4, 3-4) is trying to avoid another difficult finish after starting 5-1. The Gamecocks were 7-3 last season before losing their final three games, and dropped their final five games of 2007 to finish 6-6.
“It’s kind of become a seasonal thing around here,” defensive tackle Nathan Pepper said.
The Gamecocks are coming off last Saturday’s 33-16 loss to Arkansas, their second straight defeat and third in four games.
Stephen Garcia passed for 327 yards with a touchdown and an interception for South Carolina, which is averaging 12.3 points in its last four games—down from 27.3 in its first six.
To try and give the offense a boost, Spurrier said Tuesday that he’ll increase his play calling role down in the final two regular season games.
“We are just not real good right now. I don’t know how else to say it,” Spurrier said. “Maybe all of the good fortune we had earlier is catching up with us a bit.”