Dre Massey hasn’t done what he hoped this season.
The Florida receiver hasn’t made defenses dread him, prepare for him or fear him. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations then-coach Jim McElwain set for him when he transferred to Florida from junior college.
But all of that can be numbed this weekend. All of the frustration and lost promise can go away if Massey helps take down the South Carolina Gamecocks. Massey is a perfect metaphor for UF’s 2017 season.
Massey’s chance to make the season worthwhile will come from playing at home. He wrote on Twitter that he’s expecting 65 family members and friends at the game. He’s from Greenville, South Carolina, and nearly committed to the hometown Gamecocks before picking Florida.
The Gators can make the season worthwhile by extending their chances of making a bowl game. If Florida (3-5, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) can knock off the 5 1/2-point favorite Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC) and win next weekend against UAB, that sets up a showdown against Florida State with bowl eligibility and a winning record to play for.
“We got to win these next three games to get to a bowl game,” offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said, “so they’re must-wins and puts the pressure on us.”
This wasn’t supposed to be the team’s motivation with three regular-season games left. The Gators entered the season with a No. 17 ranking and expectations of contending for the SEC title game.
Massey was supposed to be explosive. He came to Florida and was hyped by McElwain for his playmaking abilities. Then Massey tore his ACL on the season’s opening kickoff, ending his 2016 campaign. He entered 2017 with expectations of being that playmaker, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
He’s accepted that, and his team has, too. So each have new goals. Massey’s is to give his family and friends a game to remember while helping his team with its own goal: breaking its four-game losing skid while trudging toward a winning record and a bowl game.
Why is a bowl game so important, even if it isn’t a particularly prestigious one?
“You get those extra couple of weeks of practice, film, those kind of things,” defensive lineman Taven Bryan said. “You stay in shape better. If you have the whole December off, you kind of slack a little bit. It’ll definitely be a good thing if we hit a bowl game.”
There’s also one extra layer of motivation. Because for fourth- and fifth-year Florida players, facing South Carolina means facing their former coach, Will Muschamp. And as Bryan said, “Can’t lose to ‘Champ, right?”
“I still got his playbook,” he said. “I may pass that out. I’m sure not much has changed.”
The results certainly have. Muschamp resigned at Florida after a meltdown loss to South Carolina. Now he has his Gamecocks playing with a winning SEC record and a chance to knock off his former program.
Florida coach Randy Shannon is hoping to return his team to an even mark in SEC play in its final conference game of the year. He believes Massey can help after he led the team with 75 receiving yards last week at Missouri.
“Once a guy shows he can do it, you have to find ways to get the ball back in his hands,” Shannon said. “We’re finding ways to get the ball in his hands so he can make plays for us.”
Playmaking, after all, is something both the Gators and Massey have lacked this year. South Carolina could be the point that changes that and gets Florida back to respectability.
Or, as it has for consecutive weeks, the team could fall further into the abyss.
Saturday: Florida at South Carolina
Kickoff: Noon; Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina.
TV/radio: CBS; WINZ 940.
Favorite: South Carolina by 5 1/2.
Records: Florida 3-5 (3-4 SEC); South Carolina 6-4 (4-3 SEC).
Series: Florida leads 26-8-3.
Florida injuries: Questionable — DB Garrett Stephens (knee); RB Lamical Perine (knee). Out — QB Jake Allen (undisclosed); OL Brett Heggie (knee); DL Jachai Polite (shoulder); UT Kadarius Toney (shoulder); DB Nick Washington (shoulder); DL Kylan Johnson (hamstring); RB Malik Davis (knee); DL Jordan Sherit (hip); QB Luke Del Rio (shoulder); WR James Robinson (heart); QB Kyle Trask (foot); DB Marcell Harris (achilles).
South Carolina injuries: Questionable — DB D.J. Smith (hip); WR Chad Terrell (ankle); OL Malik Young (ankle); DL Taylor Stallworth (undisclosed); WR Terry Googer (concussion). Out — DB Tavyn Jackson (hamstring); RB Rico Dowdle (leg); TE K.C. Crosby (fibula); LB Bryson Allen-Williams (shoulder); WR Deebo Samuel (leg); WR Jerad Washington (leg).