University of Florida

Gators aim to swamp Gamecocks and reclaim home dominance

UF coach Will Muschamp, left, has lost five of his past seven games in Gainesvile. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier lost only five games at home in 12 seasons when he was Gators coach.
UF coach Will Muschamp, left, has lost five of his past seven games in Gainesvile. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier lost only five games at home in 12 seasons when he was Gators coach. FILE PHOTOS

Steve Spurrier has a statue outside of Florida Field, and famously nicknamed the stadium “The Swamp” nearly two decades ago.

In a dozen seasons, UF’s former head coach was 68-5 at home, coining the phrase, “Only Gators get out alive.”

But Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is no longer a house of horrors, and plenty of opponents have waltzed out winners under embattled coach Will Muschamp.

No more.

Florida is aiming “to take back The Swamp” at high noon Saturday against South Carolina.

“I really challenged our football team after the Vanderbilt win how important it is to take back The Swamp,” Muschamp said.

Added All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III: “We owe our fans one.”

The Gators, ripe with momentum amid a two-game winning streak, have dropped their last two home games, including an embarrassing 42-13 shellacking against Missouri on Oct. 25.

UF is just 2-5 in its past seven games in Gainesville, with Muschamp nearly losing more times in four seasons (7) than Spurrier and Urban Meyer combined (10).

“We’ve got to defend it,” senior center Max Garcia said. “The Swamp is a place where other teams should fear coming into. Only Gators get out alive. So we’ve got to make that happen again, we’ve got to take it back this game.”

South Carolina has stumbled to a 4-5 record this season, but the Gamecocks still present a formidable offense, and Spurrier is no stranger to springing upsets.

Florida (5-3) is a six-point favorite, and the Ol’ Ball Coach is just 1-3 in The Swamp with the Gamecocks.

“It’s not that big of a deal anymore,” Spurrier said, on returning to his alma mater. “I’ll look around the stadium some in pregame, think about a lot of memories, but once we kick off it’s just another game.”

Not for the Gators.

Florida is chasing bowl eligibility, and Muschamp must continue winning to save his job and keep the Gators in the hunt (mathematically) in the SEC East.

“The last time we were at home we got embarrassed and we don’t want to give that to our fans again,” junior linebacker Antonio Morrison said.

Florida’s recent resurgence (wins against Georgia and Vanderbilt) has taken some heat off Muschamp, but with Spurrier hoping to salvage South Carolina’s stumbling season, the two coaching buddies are in a unique situation this weekend.

Just a month ago, Spurrier was asked to defend Muschamp’s future at Florida. Now, with the Gamecocks losing four of five, the tables have turned.

“Steve’s been very supportive of me since I’ve been here, gone out of his way to support me and I really appreciate that,” Muschamp said. “Sitting behind the chair you understand what [coaches] go through. Certainly have a respect for everybody that coaches.”

Especially a dear friend.

Saturday’s showdown could be the final game in The Swamp for Spurrier, as speculation swirls that the coaching legend – who turns 70 next April – could retire at season’s end. Though many believe Spurrier will coach next year, he may not be around in 2016 when the Gamecocks return to Gainesville.

“There’s kind of a chance for anything in life, isn’t there?” he quipped. “I told everybody to refer to my comments last week [about planning to return]. We plan to be back and go from there.”

Saturday: South Carolina at Florida

Kickoff: Noon; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville.

TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.

Favorite: Florida by 7.

Records: Florida 5-3 (4-3 SEC); South Carolina 4-5 (2-5 SEC).

Series: Florida leads 24-7-3.

Florida injuries: Out — DB Keanu Neal (ankle); RB Mark Herndon (knee); CB J.C. Jackson (shoulder); TE Jake McGee (tibia); LB Jeremi Powell (knee); DL Thomas Holley (hip).

South Carolina injuries: Questionable — DE Cedrick Cooper (ankle); OG Cody Waldrop (knee); S Kadetrix Marcus (shoulder); WR Matrick Belton (leg); CB Wesley Green (knee). Out — RB Jamari Smith (foot).

Related stories from Miami Herald