Game Breakdown & Prediction for Jacksonville State
The Florida Gators' magical season is coming to a close, and for this year's crop of seniors, Saturday will be a bittersweet day as the team hosts its final game at the Swamp.
Entering the season at No. 23 in the AP Poll, UF was expected to be a year or two away from making a serious run at a national championship, but bolstered by a group of veteran leaders and a coach with an insatiable appetite for perfection, the No. 7 Gators will try and complete a perfect home record by taking down Jacksonville State.
Led by a fierce defense, the Gators hope Saturday will be the second time this season they've destroyed the Gamecocks (the other one being against South Carolina).
Let's take a complete look at Saturday's matchup between Florida and Jacksonville State.
WHAT HAPPENED TO JACKSONVILLE STATE LAST WEEK:
Down 16-14 at halftime against cellar dweller Austin Peay, the Gamecocks made a furious 24-point comeback, defeating the Governors, 38-23, to move to 6-4. Jacksonville State's defense surrendered 497 yards, including 375 through the air.
However, the Gamecocks relied on their fantastic one-two punch of DaMarcus James and former Georgia Bulldog Washaun Ealey, as the two standouts combined for 229 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. Ealey also added a pair of receiving touchdowns, displaying the versatility that made him a standout before he left Georgia. The win against Austin Peay came just a week after a 49-47 defeat by Tennessee-Martin.
WHAT HAPPENED TO FLORIDA LAST WEEK:
If not for a ridiculous play on special teams, the Gators could well be 8-2 and out of the Top 10. Loucheiz Purifoy's blocked punt with just seconds remaining in the fourth quarter fluttered in the air and into the waiting arms of linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who returned it 36 yards for the game-ending touchdown.
The miraculous play made up for a lackluster effort by the Gators, who looked poised for an embarrassing loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on homecoming weekend. Once again, the Gators' offense struggled to get anything going and were dealt a tough blow when quarterback Jeff Driskel left the game with an ankle injury. Backup Jacoby Brissett ended up completing six passes, including the game-tying touchdown with 1:42 remaining.
To say the Gators got lucky in escaping with a win would be an understatement, and the team needs a much better performance this week to avoid slipping in the rankings.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BOTH TEAMS:
With Florida all but out of the national championship equation, this game holds more sentimental value than anything else. Saturday's showdown will be the final game at the Swamp for the seniors, and you can bet this year's group wants to go out with a bang.
Veterans like Omar Hunter, Mike Gillislee and Josh Evans have stepped up their play in 2012 and have NFL aspirations, so expect them to try and deliver vintage performances in their final game in Gainesville. The matchup against Florida is the final game of the season for Jacksonville State, so expect their seniors to be emotional as they suit up for their final collegiate game.
KEY PLAYER FOR GAMECOCKS:
The Gators should be very familiar with Jacksonville State tailback Washaun Ealey. Before starring for the Gamecocks, Ealey was a Bulldog, but the 5'11", 215-pound senior was granted his unconditional release by Georgia back in May 2011. After rushing for more than 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in the SEC, the powerful tailback made a seamless transition to the Ohio Valley Conference.In his first season with the Gamecocks, Ealey rushed for 1,082 yards and has tallied 718 and 10 rushing touchdowns this season. The future NFL back forms a solid tandem with sophomore DeMarcus James, but look for Ealey to try and make a statement against an old opponent.
KEY PLAYER FOR GATORS:
ike Gillislee isn't going to meet his lofty preseason goals of 1,500 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns, but that doesn't mean he can't go out with a bang. After a torrid start, the 5'11", 209-pound senior has been bottled up the past five games, averaging less than 60 yards rushing per game and failing to score a rushing touchdown.
The soft-spoken tailback has still been an important part of the Gators' offense, but his stock is slipping with a poor finish. Look for offensive coordinator Brent Pease to get the ball in Gillislee's hands early and often, setting up a big home finale for the senior.
THE GAMECOKCS WILL WIN IF:
With Florida's offense struggling to score, the Gamecocks' best bet would be to wear down the Gators' defense with its strong running game and try to jump out to an early lead. Between DaMarcus James and Washaun Ealey, the Gamecocks certainly have the firepower to test Florida's defense, but it'll be a monumental task for those two to run against Sharrif Floyd, Jon Bostic and Co.
Quarterback Marcus Ivory has thrown for 16 touchdowns and has a handful of solid receiving options, so the Gamecocks certainly aren't devoid of weapons. However, it's asking a whole lot for their offense to put up points on UF's top-10 defense.
If the Gamecocks hope to pull off a monumental upset, it'll be because their offense stakes them out to an early lead, forcing Florida to try and string together multiple scoring drives.
THE GATORS WILL WIN IF:
It's simple for Florida: Don't play down to your competition. Last weekend the Gators did exactly that and probably should have lost.
This week there are no excuses.
Whether it's Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett behind center, Florida needs to execute better on offense, especially along the offensive line, and continue to play disciplined, aggressive defense. As long as the Gators contain the Gamecocks' running game, it'll be tough for JSU to point any points on the board.
With the seniors looking to put their stamp on the program, the Gators have to come out firing on all cylinders and put this game out of hand early.
This one shouldn't even be close.
Will Muschamp should have his team ready to go Saturday, as the added motivation of finishing the season with a perfect home record will be in the back of both the players' and coaches' minds.
Jacksonville State is no slouch, but the Ohio Valley Conference can't touch the big boys of the SEC.
Prediction: Florida 28, Jacksonville State 6
Stephen Sheehan is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Click here to read more of his work.