The stories around this game are amazing. First you have Zook in his final home game at the Swamp where his teams have not played their best football. The Gators are also playing for a bowl game, likely in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl. South Carolina's Lou Holtz is rumored to be stepping off into coaching retirement and this could be the last time the legendary coach walks the sidelines in the Swamp. Interestingly enough the Steve Spurrier to Columbia rumors have intensified this week with the Old Ball Coach publicly saying he would like to coach in the college ranks, preferably in the south. This week's game alone is a short novel with many subplots and oh yes, by the way, it's homecoming for the alumni to come back and visit God's country of Gainesville, Florida.
I think the Florida team has played well considering the circumstances of the last two weeks. I believe if Jeremy Foley would have waited until after the FSU game to make his decision on Ron Zook, the Gators would have beaten Georgia and be 6-3 right now. That also could have made Foley's decision tougher, especially if they upset FSU. South Carolina had a lot of pressure taken off its shoulders last week with the win over Arkansas and now the Gamecocks can send Lou off in a bowl game. The Gamecocks should come in loose and with confidence to try and get their first win ever over Florida.
Snippetts and Tidbits…
The Gator running game has been much improved this season under Larry Fedora for three reasons
1. Ciatrick Fason is a special player who has taken his game to another level.
2. The offensive line is arguably the best in the conference and has stayed relatively healthy all season.
3. The commitment to running game has not wavered all season.
Fedora has maintained a balance in play calling this year. The Gators are averaging 195 yards rushing per game in their last three contests... Only Matt Leinhart has thrown a touchdown in more consecutive games than Chris Leak. Leinhart a junior, has Southern Cal poised for a national title while Leak is trying to get his young team to a bowl game. The difference has been defense. The Trojans defense has been light years better the last 20 games than Florida's which is why the Gators are out of contention in the SEC... Leak needs to re-discover Chad Jackson this week in the passing game. Jackson is the best big play deep threat and his absence from the deep passing game in recent weeks is quite puzzling. Jackson has been open but there has been times where Leak missed him in the reads or has had been under pressure.
The Gator offense which has received a lot of attention this week leads or is at the top of every major category in the SEC. The most impressive is third down conversions. Last year the Gators converted 34% but this year they are up to 51% which is one of the best in the country. Other than the Kentucky game the UF red zone offense continues to shine and they were 4-4 last week against Vanderbilt. This could be a key this week because the Gamecocks are more explosive offensively this season than any other under Lou Holtz.
Ciatrick Fason could challenge some serious single season numbers if the Gator make a bowl game. Currently Fason has 1,050 yards total and if he averages 100 yds per game the next three games including a bowl game he would finish with the second best season in Gator football history. Emmitt Smith has the first two with 1,599 yds in 1989 and 1,341 yds in 1987. The irony of Fason's season if it finishes second to Emmitt's is that he would have done it in his junior season just like Smith. Of course we remember what happened after Emmitt's junior year he left for the pros.
Syvelle Newton should be public enemy number one for the Gator defense this weekend. He has engineered some impressive numbers for the Gamecocks as their quarterback. I don't think senior, Dondrial Pinkins, will play much if at all and Newton gives them a better deep passer and quicker runner from the quarterback position... Florida could really use Channing Crowder back in the lineup and don't count him out this weekend. The Gators are giving up 157 yards per game rushing and Lou Holtz knows how to attack a weakness.
The Gators are coming off a convincing win at Vandy in which they had four turnover and did not cause one on defense. I think the missing linebackers contributed to that and look to see if all of them don't make their way back to the field this week.
Prediction: UF 38-31.