If you had told South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier a few weeks ago that he would lose his All-SEC starting running back Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury midseason, his starting quarterback would be dismissed and his sophomore backup would be knocked out of a big game with a concussion — and he'd still be in contention to win the SEC East — he might have thought you were crazy.
All that has happened to the Gamecocks, and yet this afternoon they host Florida still vying for the division title and holding things together despite a growing number of injuries and struggles on the field at times.
"It's a little unusual," Spurrier said. "Again, we're 7-2 and 5-2 in the conference with the chance to win more conference games than ever around here in 20 years of ball. So we can't sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. Even though we haven't played spectacular, we have won a bunch of games. We'll try to play our best this week with the players we have. That's what we'll try to do."
Florida coach Will Muschamp echoes that sentiment. His Gators also have been hampered all season by injuries but with much different results in the win-loss column.
Senior quarterback John Brantley missed 10 quarters for the Gators with a high ankle sprain, and although he has played in the past two games, he has not been at full speed.
Since his return two weeks ago, Florida hasn't been able to operate out of its normal offense. Against Georgia, the Gators operated primarily out of the shotgun because Brantley's injury hindered his mobility. And last week, in an effort to compensate for the injury and rediscover their running game, the Gators installed their version of Nevada's "pistol" offense against Vanderbilt, which Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said he will use again this week.
"It was kind of natural," Weis said. "Going into Georgia, the kid (Brantley) was still pretty hobbled. So he really couldn't even have done that in that game. He wouldn't have been (able). I thought about doing it, putting it in for the Georgia game, but other than dropping straight back, he really wasn't good enough to do that. You know, he got better. So all we did was kind of took out the first three steps and that helped us. You end up with (Brantley) back 5 yards and the halfback, instead of being back 7 yards, he's back 8 yards, so you don't run into each other. It just fits with what we do."
The loss of Lattimore and quarterback Stephen Garcia, a former Jefferson High star, could have been catastrophic, but Spurrier said the Gamecocks have managed to maintain much of their offense with the players who have stepped in — particularly quarterback Connor Shaw, who enters the game one week after suffering a concussion and missing several days of practice.
"It's pretty much the same, pretty much the same," Spurrier said. "Obviously with Marcus we wanted to make sure he ran about 20 to 30 times a game. But we have two tailbacks playing now, Kenny Miles and freshman Brandon Wilds playing, so it's changed a little bit but not a whole bunch."
Florida, which struggled offensively during October, is no longer in the hunt for a title, but in need of a victory to become bowl eligible. Muschamp said he hopes the Gators can play pressure-free, and he believes a healthy Brantley means a world of difference for Florida.
"Having John back makes us that sort of offense that we want to be and simulates the type of team that we want to be offensively," Muschamp said. "And that's where we're headed, and that's what we're looking forward to just playing there in Columbia."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.