When Florida and South Carolina met last season, it was a game between top 10 teams battling for an SEC East title.
How things have changed.
When the Gators and Gamecocks meet today in Williams-Brice Stadium, the No. 11 Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 SEC) will be in contention for an East Division title. The Gators (4-5, 3-4) have no championship aspirations. They just need a win.
On a four-game losing streak and in jeopardy of not becoming bowl eligible, a win tonight is about as far as the Gators can look.
"We're taking everything one game at a time, one snap at a time," senior center Jon Harrison said. "If we focus on things too far in the future, we lose sight of the task at hand. We're trying to work on Florida and eliminating the self-inflicted wounds that Florida has been suffering from."
The Gators are the most penalized team in the conference and are coming off a game in which three interceptions led to 21 points for Vanderbilt in UF's first home loss to the Commodores in 68 years.
But thanks to last year's game against Florida, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the Gamecocks can't take anything for granted. Last season the Gators amassed just 183 yards of total offense, but they recovered three fumbles and had one interception in a 44-11 win.
"Obviously this year they've had a rash of injuries all over the team that's really hurt them, but they've still got plenty of ballplayers, and they're still a very hard-nosed, physical type team," Spurrier said. "We're looking forward to seeing what happens. … We've got to play well if we're going to expect to have a good chance to win the game."
The Gators have lost 10 players to season-ending injuries, yet the remaining players insist they haven't lost faith and still believe they can finish strong.
"We feel confident that we can definitely go into South Carolina and win, but it's not going to be easy," quarterback Tyler Murphy said. "We're going to have to have a great week of practice and show up on Saturday, and execute, and do the things we have struggled with throughout the season. We're going to have to have a lot of things come together, and we're going to have to probably play our best game of the year."
Which will be even more difficult if Murphy cannot play. A sprained shoulder suffered nearly a month ago and aggravated last weekend kept him out of practice for two days this week and severely limited him for the rest. His status will be a game-time decision, coach Will Muschamp said. If Murphy can't play, redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who has never thrown a pass in a collegiate game, will start. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Mornhinweg is as ready as can be expected.
So, too, are the rest of the Gators; as ready as can be expected.
"I know that I can answer for myself, I have the same fight," left guard Max Garcia said. "I want to win; that's what I want to do. I'm a competitor. I want to go out there and give it my best."
Added Harrison: "Obviously, it's not an ideal season for how we wanted it to go, but we just have to keep fighting and keep battling adversity. Life is full of adversity. Life will throw curveballs at you. It's how you deal with them that makes you a better person. We just know that we have to keep fighting, that the season isn't done. Regardless of the circumstances or the outcome of the previous week, we still have to keep fighting and working."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]