COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — One South Carolina upset was great. Now, the Gamecocks are looking to do something never before done in the history of the football program: Win consecutive games against top-10 opponents.
The Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) pulled off the biggest surprise of the college football season by outlasting then-No. 3 Georgia 30-27 in double overtime last Saturday. Linebacker Ernest Jones believes the Gamecocks are poised for another shocker when they host No. 9 Florida (6-1, 3-1) this week.
“I’m already ready for Florida,” said Jones, the SEC’s second-leading tackler. “I love the feeling of winning a big game, I want that feeling again.”
Florida knows what it feels like to lose a big game. The Gators hung with No. 2 LSU into third quarter before the Tigers pulled away for a 42-28 win. The loss dropped the Gators a couple of spots in the polls. But with Georgia’s loss, they’re still right in the thick of the SEC Eastern Division chase and a fifth straight win over South Carolina would certainly help their title hopes.
Florida receiver Josh Hammond said many of the veterans who played under coach Dan Mullen last year remember how the team followed up a loss in a high-profile game to Georgia with another the next week against Missouri.
“So I think guys are just ready to get back on the practice field and break down mistakes from last week and get ready for South Carolina,” Hammond said. “We cannot let it happen again.”
Florida has been among the steadiest teams in the SEC, particularly on defense where it leads the league with 26 sacks and 12 interceptions. Junior Kyle Trask has been rock solid at quarterback since taking over for injured starter Feleipe Franks on Sept. 14.
Trask has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 1,191 yards, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He had 310 yards passing in the LSU, joining Gator greats Tim Tebow and Rex Grossman as the only passers to throw for 300 or more yards against a Top-25 opponent since the start of the 2000 season.
South Carolina has also thrived recently with its backup quarterback in freshman Ryan Hilinski. He completed 15 of 20 throws at Georgia before coming out late in the third quarter after taking a hard hit and pounding the ground in pain. But Muschamp said Hilinski has only a knee sprain, has practiced this week and should be good to go against Florida.
Some other things to watch for when No. 9 Florida plays at South Carolina:
The Gamecocks are trying to win three straight SEC games for the first time since midway through the 2017 season and just the second time since the end of 2013. South Carolina has never defeated Top-10 teams in consecutive games.
Two of Florida defensive mainstays in end Jabari Zuniga and linebacker Jonathan Greenard were out for the LSU defeat and could miss the South Carolina game, too. Both are dealing with ankle injuries and Florida coach Dan Mullen said both will be game-time decisions on whether they’ll go against the Gamecocks. Greenard and Zuniga are one-two in sacks for the Gators this season. Greenard has four and Zuniga has three.
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South Carolina safety Israel Mukuamu had himself a game against Georgia with 11 tackles and the first three interceptions Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm had all season. Mukuamu’s showing moved him into the SEC lead with four interceptions this season.
Florida coach Dan Mullen says his team is still in control of its championship fate with the next four games against SEC East opponents. After South Carolina and a bye week, the Gators face Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, then are home against Vanderbilt before a contest at surprise East leader Missouri. “We completely control our destiny, so we have to get ready,” he said.
South Carolina put up 142 yards rushing against Georgia, the SEC leader at stopping the run. The Gamecocks, near the bottom of the pack in SEC rushing since Muschamp arrived before the 2016 season, sit fifth in the conference at 193.5 yards a game.