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Will Muschamp took a step toward saving his job with Florida’s 38-20 trouncing of No. 11 Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
Two weeks after the Gators committed six turnovers and gave up four return touchdowns in an embarrassing 42-13 home loss to Missouri, the Gators looked like an entirely different team. It was Florida’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2012, and it followed a familiar formula that Muschamp has employed for much of his tenure in Gainesville: run the ball and play tough defense.
With true freshman Treon Harris under center, the Gators reached its highest point total since Week 1 while racking up 418 yards on the ground and attempting just six passes. The backfield tandem of Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones carried a combined 50 times for 389 yards — the first time in school history two players ran for more than 190 yards in the same game.
And the Gators did it against Georgia, the SEC East favorites and a team Muschamp hadn’t beat in his time as Florida’s coach. Until Saturday.
Now the Gators are 4-3 heading into next weekend’s matchup with SEC cellar dweller Vanderbilt. While Muschamp is not completely out the woods, he must take care of Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky to reach the six-win plateau and bowl eligibility.
(Remember, rain wiped out the team’s season opener against Idaho, so that took a surefire victory off the board for Muschamp.)
Sandwiched between Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky on the schedule is a home game with Steve Spurrier and the up-and-down South Carolina Gamecocks before a trip to Florida State wraps the regular season up Nov. 29. If the Gators can pull out one of those games (South Carolina or FSU) to finish 7-4 heading into a bowl game, athletic director Jeremy Foley should have a hard time firing Muschamp.
Oh, and as crazy as it sounds, the Gators still have an outside shot at winning the SEC East. Wins over Vandy and South Carolina, coupled with two Missouri losses (one must be Tennessee) and one Georgia loss would improbably give the Gators a tiebreaker. Crazier things have happened.
Muschamp’s defenses have always been the strengths of his Florida teams, but a bevy of young skill position players showed Saturday what could be a dynamic offensive future. Harris, Taylor (sophomore), Jones (junior) and leading receiver Demarcus Robinson (sophomore) all will return next season, giving the Gators a very solid core with which to work moving forward.
Muschamp definitely still has work to do, but this was the first step.
Missouri: The Tigers have control of the SEC East. How crazy is that? And yes, this is the same team that has lost to both Indiana and Georgia at home. The Tigers played a complete game on Saturday against Kentucky for a 20-10 win and thanks to Georgia's loss to Florida, are alone at the top of the division. QB Maty Mauk wasn't impressive, but he was much better than he's been in SEC play so far. If Mauk can continue to not turn the ball over and if Missouri's defense – a defense that Kentucky QB Patrick Towles said was better than Mississippi State's – continues to play well, then the Tigers should make it to Atlanta for a second straight season.
Brandon Hayes: The Memphis running back carried the ball 29 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-20 win over Tulsa to keep the Tigers in the American title race at 3-1 and 5-3 overall. Hayes’ previous career high was 124 yards, and his highest this season was 100 yards. In fact, that was his only other triple-digit rushing performance during the current campaign. Though that may not be down to Hayes, as he’s only been handed the ball 10 or more times in four games this season. With the obvious acknowledgement that Tulsa’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, maybe Memphis should try that a little more often?
Houston and Memphis: Speaking of Hayes and Memphis, as previously noted, the Tigers’ win over Tulsa puts them in prime position in the American Athletic Conference title race. But they’re not alone. With Houston’s 27-3 win over South Florida, both teams are sitting pretty in the American Athletic Conference after ECU’s loss to Temple (which we’ll get to in a minute). But they’re not alone. ECU, Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and Memphis are all 3-1 in conference play, setting up an interesting last few weeks.
Shaq Thompson: Before we start, we’ll remind you that Thompson was on many Butkus Award watch lists as a linebacker to start the season. But his offensive prowess is starting to border on the absurd. In a 38-23 win over Colorado, Thompson ran 15 times for 174 yard and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 41 yards. He threw in one solo tackle to complete his contributions, but it’s clear after this performance and his outburst last week against Arizona State (he ran for 98 yards in a 24-10 loss) that he’ll be featuring more and more on offense, despite pining to be back on the other side of the ball with his defensive teammates.
Munchie Legaux: The Cincinnati backup relieved starter Gunner Kiel, still ailing from bruised ribs, and may have taken the job away in a 38-14 rout of Tulane. Legaux completed 16 of 24 passes for 211 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and all in front of his family in his hometown of New Orleans. Head coach Tommy Tuberville confirmed that the Bearcats will move forward with Legaux as the starter, and it would stay that way as long as Kiel isn’t 100-percent healthy. So for now, underdog fans of Legaux will get their chance to root for him to keep the job. But the next test won’t be as easy as the Bearcats host East Carolina in two weeks.
Kenny Hill: What a momentous fall for the Texas A&M quarterback, who was prematurely crowned the next big thing by nearly everyone after thrashing South Carolina to open the season, and found himself facing a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules on Saturday after steering the Aggies to a subpar 2-3 record in the SEC. In stepped Kyle Allen, the former top QB recruit in the nation, with many wondering if the suspension would be the easiest way for the Aggies to pass the torch. The good news for Hill was that Allen was far from impressive, completing just 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a narrow 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe. The bad news is that a floundering A&M needed him to be a lot better, Hill will still be out another game, and Auburn is next on the schedule. The Aggies are really missing Kenny Trill, and at this point, it’s hard to know if they’ll ever get that version of their suspended starter back.
ECU: There’s nothing like a disaster of a 20-10 loss to Temple to derail the borderline historical run your program has built up in the last two months. Before scoring a late touchdown, the Pirates spent 55 minutes scoring three points and giving up five turnovers. As our Pat Forde noted, that’s an impressive way to flop out of contention for a major bowl. Meanwhile, the other conference champion contender outside the Group of 5 chasing ECU for that New Year’s Day bowl spot is Marshall, and the Thundering Herd is undefeated, had its QB featured on College Gameday, and had the week off with arguably its toughest games out of the way, taking the driver’s seat for that Jan. 1 spotlight.
Chris Blewitt: College kickers, right? Pittsburgh’s Blewitt had a chance to put Duke away in the closing seconds of a 28-28 game at Heinz Field, and brutally hooked (see below) a 26-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. To make matters worse, he absolutely nailed a 43-yard field goal in the second overtime, only to be outdone by a Thomas Sirk five-yard run on the ensuing Duke possession, sealing the win for the Blue Devils. Instead of an upset of the No. 24 team in the nation on a kick Blewitt probably considers a chip shot, the Panthers are now 2-3 in ACC play and 4-5 overall.
Penn State: Before Saturday’s game, Maryland spent a lot of time building up the idea that this was a new rivalry in the Big Ten, and Penn State dismissed it at every turn. And who could blame the Nittany Lions? Maryland was 1-35-1 all-time against Penn State, including an abysmal 0-22 at Beaver Stadium. Calling this a rivalry was, well, generous at best. But then there were scuffles, and Maryland refused to shake hands before the game, and then the Terrapins stole the game with a field goal with less than a minute to go, winning 20-19. Edsall beamed afterward, but insisted the no-handshake thing wasn’t planned. Sure. Before Saturday, Penn State was right. It’s not a rivalry if one team never wins. But now? Maryland will be happy to chirp to anyone who will listen about what a nuisance they’ve become for Penn State. Oh, and it also puts Penn State at 1-4 in the Big Ten this year. Maryland? 3-2.
Connor Halliday: This was just sad. Halliday, a senior at Washington State and the nation’s passing yardage leader, was knocked out of the game in the first quarter when he was rolled up on by two USC lineman, and immediately was screaming in pain on the ground. Turns out it was a broken fibula, and Halliday was in surgery by nightfall, ending his season and his career. Without much else to hang his hat on at Wazzu, Halliday holds a ton of school records, and set the NCAA single-game record for passing yards with 734 against Cal earlier this season. Halliday led the country with 3,833 yards passing and 32 touchdown passes, and was on pace to set even more records from the school level to the conference level and perhaps even the NCAA level. It was a terrible way for that all to end.
Max Thompson and Nick Bromberg contributed to this post.
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