Georgia Southern (6-4) at Florida (4-6)
2 p.m., Saturday, ESPN3
The Florida Gators may be having a disappointing season, but that’s not why head coach Will Muschamp is concerned about facing Georgia Southern on Saturday.
Just look at the stats against GSU’s SEC opponents.
In 2011, the Eagles played eventual national champion Alabama and lost 45-21, but the Eagles rushed for 302 yards and gained 7.4 per play.
In 2012, Georgia played host to GSU, and the Eagles lost 45-14, but rushed for 302 yards again.
Now the Gators (4-6) get their shot at facing the GSU spread-option offense.
“It’s a huge concern just because it’s so different,” Muschamp said at a press conference on Monday. “It’s a huge concern for me, and when our players turn the film on today, they will certainly realize why we’re concerned with what they do. What they do is different.”
The difference this time, for the Eagles (6-4) is that they’re not at full strength. GSU had names like Jaybo Shaw, Jerick McKinnon and Dominique Swope as the backbone of the option against SEC competition, and the offensive performances couldn’t overcome the powerful offenses of Alabama and Georgia. Alabama didn’t punt against the Eagles, and Georgia, only once.
This time, they have freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison and a dinged-up McKinnon, with freshmen Irving Huggins and Nardo Govan sharing snaps in the backfield.
Though the Gators are down offensively this year and have used three different quarterbacks — injured starter Jeff Driskel, his replacement Tyler Murphy and third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg — that doesn’t mean things will be any easier for the Eagles’ defense.
“First of all, they are very, very talented,” GSU co-defensive coordinator Kevin Corless said. “To say we’re approaching this as any other game is kind of coach speak, but we really are in terms of our preparation. Yeah, they’ve been through some quarterbacks, but it doesn’t matter if it’s the first-string, second-string or third-string at the University of Florida, he’s going to be pretty good.”
The only real edge for the Eagles is the mystery of their scheme.
“You just don't ever see it. Not many teams run it,” Muschamp said. “I guess the service academies and Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern are the only schools that majorly run the triple.
“We're getting ready for an offense that's so different from what we've seen in three years. Obviously we spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing and looking at different teams and how they handled this because it's so different from what we've faced.”
The last time the Gators faced anything remotely similar was when Furman mixed in some option plays in 2011. Sure, Florida won 54-32, but the Paladins had the early edge and led 22-7 after the first quarter.
The depleted Eagles are just hoping for a low-scoring game.
“We’re going to have to stop those guys some,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. “We’re not going to survive a track meet. If they’re scoring every time they’ve got it, then we have to answer with a score every time, and that’s not going to play into our philosophy.”
Kickoff against the Gators is scheduled for 2 p.m., in Gainesville, Fla.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.