The Gators’ miserable season is at risk of getting even worse.
With the team battered by injuries and facing long odds of making a bowl game, the situation can further deteriorate if players check out and allow their minds to wander toward the offseason.
“We have to make sure that we stay on top of each other and make sure nobody gives up on the season,” quarterback Tyler Murphy said. “We have to keep things going and try to find a way to (win) two out of these next three so we can make a bowl game.”
With three games remaining, Florida is two short of the necessary six wins for bowl eligibility. That is a mountainous task considering the Gators visit No. 10 South Carolina on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2), then host Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State the following weeks.
Injuries have been devastating for UF this season, and the list of hobbled players grew this week. Starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is out for the year after tearing the meniscus in his right knee during last week’s game. He is the 10th player (sixth starter) to suffer a season-ending injury.
The Gators (4-5, 3-4 SEC) will use Michael Taylor in Morrison’s spot and start true freshman Jarrad Davis at weak-side linebacker.
Murphy, the only experienced quarterback on the team, is questionable for Saturday’s game with a sprained joint in his throwing shoulder. He probably won’t practice until Wednesday and couldn’t guarantee he would be ready by Saturday.
The QB has been fighting through the injury for at least the past three games, and it was exacerbated in Saturday’s 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt when Murphy threw 46 times and took five sacks.
Skyler Mornhinweg, a redshirt freshman, is next in line and will run the offense early this week while Murphy is out. Mornhinweg — whose father, Marty, was head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2001-02 and is currently the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator — has never appeared in a game.
The makeshift offensive line will continue to miss left tackle D.J. Humphries, meaning the Gators will rely on their fourth and fifth options at the tackle spots, and they are prepared to go without cornerback Marcus Roberson. Humphries and Roberson both have knee injuries.
The combination of defeats and injured teammates has taken a toll on the team’s psyche.
“I certainly think it has had an effect, but we’ve got to find way to get it right,” coach Will Muschamp said.
The issues UF faces right now would make life difficult against anyone, let alone one of the best teams in the nation. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) needs the win to stay in the SEC Eastern Division race, and Williams-Brice Stadium should be thunderous.
The Gamecocks are fourth in the SEC in total defense and have the conference’s leading rusher in Mike Davis. They also have the most intimidating player in college football: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
In the toughest stretches of Muschamp’s time with the Gators, they could still rely on their defense to give them a chance. Even that mighty group has faltered. During its current four-game losing streak, Florida has allowed 165.5 rushing yards and 27.5 points per game.
The offense has been even shakier. It hasn’t topped 20 points in any of the last four games and has five touchdowns during that span. UF ranks 106th in the nation in scoring and 112th in total offense.
Murphy — who may or may not play — believes the Gators can overcome that list of negatives and revitalize their shot at playing in a bowl. He hasn’t quit on the season and doesn’t think his teammates have, either.
“We feel confident that we can definitely go into South Carolina and win, but it’s not gonna be easy,” he said. “We’re gonna have to show up on Saturday and do the things we have struggled with throughout the season. … We’re gonna have to probably play our best game of the year.”