UF lost in two games to Texas A&M, who lost in four, and won the Aggies 42-24 behind a great second half from the Gators offense and an even bigger (and surprising) one from defense. The win, the program’s first on the Southeastern Conference road since 2020, put UF in a win over qualifying for the Bowl, which Napier has cited as a key goal in its first rebuilding season.
Now comes Saturday afternoon and the next step. If Florida (5-4, 2-4) can beat South Carolina (6-3, 3-3) — and the Gators should have plenty of motivation, both past and present, to do so, especially at one sold-out “Swamp” on Seniors’ Day – checking the bowl box, building momentum and increasing the excitement that comes with a strong ending to a season.
[Read senior writer Scott Carter’s comprehensive “Opening Kickoff” preview here]
The Gamecocks, in their second season under Shane Beamer, had caught the league’s attention a couple of weeks ago with a four-game winning streak that included an away win at 13th-ranked Kentucky and a home loss to A&M before the Aggies were clearly dealing with several issues on and off the pitch. Anyway, USC was 5-2 and bowling when struggling Missouri came to town and choked the Gamecocks 23-10. They rebounded last week with a 38-27 away win at SEC-winless Vanderbilt, earning bowl eligibility and now looking to raise their profile at UF’s expense.
This would be a good time to remind Gator fans (as if it were necessary) as Carolina Florida did last November 6th in Columbia, SC with a 40-17 batting that wasn’t nearly as close as as the result suggests, absolutely overwhelmed . It was a signature win for Beamer in his freshman year — and USC’s biggest winning margin of the series — and helped lead the Gamecocks to a 7-6 season capped by a win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl .
South Carolina caught the attention of college football watchers during the offseason by bringing former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler off the transfer portal. That would be the same Rattler dude who helped smash the Gators to pieces 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl after the 2020 season (as in leading an offense that gained 684 yards). In post-game interviews, he made a comment about the UF defense that reminded him of the Sooners’ scout team.
Yes, that happened. And yes, there are a few UF players who remember (and cite) this game, knowing full well that Rattler now wears a different uniform and isn’t exactly tearing up opposing secondary players. He has rushed for 1,823 yards and eight touchdowns while throwing nine interceptions for an offense in South Carolina, which is ranked 10th (and 89th overall) in the SEC. The Gamecocks are a mediocre bunch who both run and pass the ball, which is roughly how they fare as an all-around defense. as 62nd overall (371.1 yards per game allowed) and seventh in the SEC.
However, USC running defense ranks 11th in the league and 99th nationally with 171.8 yards surrendered per game. It makes sense that the filled UF running backs room (and that occupied by the offensive line) will be keeping an eye on that number given Florida’s rushing attack — led by dueling jams Montrell Johnson Jr. and Travis Etienne, plus the quarterback’s splash play-making Anthony Richardson -Averaging 208.8 yards per game (20th in the country, 3rd in the SEC). Richardson, meanwhile, has gone three consecutive games (and the UF offense 37 consecutive possessions) without turnover.
It could hit the Florida defense. If South Carolina can be called “mediocre” above, according to statistics, the Gators are aiming for that. UF gives up 441.4 yards per game (that’s 12th in the SEC and 114th overall) and ranks bottom in third-place defense nationally.
What Florida did against A&M in the second half was pretty encouraging, even against a poor offense. The Gators gave up 307 yards and 24 points in the first half but only 106 yards, no points and forced five punts and two turnovers in the second.
How to start the last month of a season. Now it’s how the Gators end it.
Attach the next building block.
Kick-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST on the SEC Network, with Taylor Zarzour on play-by-play, former Matt Stinchcomb providing analysis and Alyssa Lang working on the sidelines. Information on radio and television broadcasts can be found here. The game will re-air Monday at 1:00 p.m. and again at 11:00 a.m. both on the SEC network. Learfield Gator IMG Sports Network coverage with Sean Kelley and Shane Matthews on the booth and Tate Casey on the sidelines begins at 9:00 am
Eventually follow FloridaGators.com Senior Writer Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) on Twitter for in-game comment and analysis. FloridaGators.com will have full coverage content on the site on Saturday and new follow-up content on Sunday as well.