Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Gators Path to SEC Championship Still Intact

 

Never fear Gator fans: All is not lost. It’s still great to be a Florida Gator, even if LSU fans mocked our cheer. Despite losing to the Tigers 17-6 in Baton Rouge, Florida still controls its own destiny in the SEC East. The Big Three in the East, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, all have one loss in conference play. Georgia beat South Carolina earlier this season but lost to Missouri on Saturday. The Gators have all three remaining on the schedule, including the leaders of the East, Missouri, next Saturday.

Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that Florida-Missouri would have so many implications. The Tigers, fresh off their win over Georgia in Athens, are 4-0 in SEC play in only their second year in the conference. Much of their success has to do with QB James Franklin being healthy this season. Unfortunately for Tiger fans, Franklin injured his shoulder and is out for the rest of the season. Missouri will have to navigate through Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M at home, as well as Ole Miss on the road. Pretty tough schedule when you have redshirt freshman Maty Mauk starting the rest of the way. And the baptism by fire starts next week against the Gators nasty defense. Although Florida was gashed for 175 yards on the ground, they held LSU QB Zach Mettenberger to 152 yards through the air and no touchdowns. The Gators still recovered the only turnover of the game and have held 13 straight SEC opponents under 20 points. With the inexperienced Mauk starting the game for Missouri, look for the Florida defense to key in on the Tiger rushing attack. Mizzou rushed for 142 yards against a young Georgia defense. If Missouri hopes to win this game, they’re going to have to make sure the Gators D doesn’t keep them bottled up on the ground. An X-factor for the Tigers? The game will be played in Columbia.

Florida gets a bye week before playing Georgia November 2nd in Jacksonville. While you never want to see players injured, the Gators get the Bulldogs when they’re hobbled a little bit. The Dawgs are on their 4th string wide receiver with injuries to Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley, and Malcolm Mitchell, the latter two gone for the season. Georgia has also lost its top two running backs with Keith Marshall being lost for the season and Todd Gurley questionable with a sprained ankle. The Bulldogs won’t find any sympathy on the Gators sidelines as they have lost QB Jeff Driskel (Although Tyler Murphy seems to be the better option at this point), DT Dominique Easley, WR/KR Andre Debose, OT Chaz Green, LB Matt Rolin, and CB Nick Washington for the season. Georgia still has QB Aaron Murray and its still Florida-Georgia, in my opinion, the Gators’ biggest rivals. I’m sure Dawgs fans would agree. This time Florida’s offense will be key against a developing defense that lost seven draft picks to the NFL. We’ll see if Murphy, Trey Burton, Solomon Patton, and, hopefully, Matt Jones (see Matt Jones Suffers Knee Injury Against LSU Tigers) can hurt that Georgia D like Missouri did.

The toughest game between the East elite might be against South Carolina November 16th in Columbia. The Gamecocks have the pieces for a great offense with QB Connor Shaw and RB Mike Davis (a former Florida commit). Shaw threw for 219 yards and three TDs and added another 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground Saturday in a 52-7 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. He also spread the ball around to nine different receivers as they try find a number one target. Davis continued to impress with his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Through six games, he leads the SEC in rushing with 742 yards. Florida will have to be careful on defense as Shaw and Davis provide balance for the Gamecocks offense, so they won’t be able to concentrate on shutting down one aspect. The Carolina D has been inconsistent this season, even with superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney’s had a tough year with his rib injury and his conditioning not being up to snuff. The Gamecock defense struggled against Georgia, UCF, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, giving up at least 25 points in each game. Saturday’s game against Arkansas did bring great improvement for the South Carolina defense, giving up only 7 points and 30 passing yards. We saw against LSU that pressure could disrupt Murphy and the Gators’ offense. Florida will have a month to get that corrected against Clowney and co. But the ‘Cocks still have the Ol’ Ball Coach. Under Spurrier, South Carolina has posted 3-6 record against a usually more talented Florida team. What’s even more impressive: USC is 6-24-3 all-time against UF, but half of their wins have come under Spurrier. Look for a tough fought game on both sides.

Florida also has their homecoming game against Vanderbilt on November 9th to complete their conference play. Vandy hasn’t been very good this year and they haven’t beaten the Gators since 1988. I think the streak continues. UF’s October will say a lot about what happens the rest of the season. Under Will Muschamp, Florida has had two vastly different October’s: In 2011, the Gators went 0-4, while in 2012 they went 3-1. If they can post a similar record this year, Florida will certainly be in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. And really, getting to Atlanta is the number one goal of Florida fans every year. If you can get to the SEC Championship, then good things usually happen. And if worse comes to worse, maybe we can play spoiler for Florida State’s season. So keep your chin up. At least we’re not Tennessee.

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Tags: Florida Gators Football SEC East

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