One week after getting by upset minded Vanderbilt, #3 Florida takes on #9 South Carolina at home in the Swamp. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down USC with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five Gamecocks players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.
BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) How good is South Carolina?
We'll start with the toughest one right off the top, and the answer really isn't clear. When Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks trounced Georgia 35-7 behind an overwhelming defense, they looked like a legitimate National Championship contender and maybe the most talented team in the country besides Alabama. Their best is very, very good, presenting more problems for Florida than LSU. But they have not come close to hitting that high in any of their other SEC games. Remember, this is a team that had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt 17-13 in its season opener. The Commodores played the Gators tough, too, but not that tough. South Carolina trailed Kentucky 17-7 at the half the week before playing Georgia. Sure, it was a classic look-ahead game, but it's darn near impossible to lose a half to the woeful Wildcats by 10 points (the Gamecocks won the second half 31-0). Then South Carolina followed its huge win over Georgia by getting out-gained by LSU 406-211 and out-rushed 258-34 in a loss that was worse than the 23-21 score indicated. Spurrier has done a tremendous job in Columbia, transforming an irrelevant program into an SEC contender, but he has not finished the job yet. The only time South Carolina reached the SEC Championship Game in his first seven years, it fell 56-7 to Auburn. The Gamecocks face immense pressure to win Saturday or 2012 will turn into a lost opportunity.
2) LSU succumbed in The Swamp. What can make South Carolina any different?
Two reasons: Connor Shaw and the weather. If the good Shaw shows up, the Gators could be in trouble. Despite their dominant defense, the one-dimensional Tigers and overmatched quarterback Zach Mettenberger never had a chance against one of the most mentally and physically tough teams you'll find anywhere in the country. LSU wilted in the heat, with seemingly half of its players cramping up like marathoners deprived of water in the 24 hours before a race. With a high of 81 degrees forecast for Saturday, that shouldn't be a problem for South Carolina. The Gamecocks, who boast just as good a defense as LSU, can't hurt the Gators with running back Marcus Lattimore alone, and that was true even before Spurrier said Lattimore was questionable with a hip injury on Wednesday. They'll need some big plays from Shaw, who went 20 of 21 for 249 yards in a 31-10 win over Missouri and has thrown two TD passes in each of his last four games.
3) Why will this look nothing like any game Spurrier coached in The Swamp when he was at Florida?
The Fun 'n' Gun era is long over. Florida prefers the Run 'n' Run under Will Muschamp. Even though Shaw has played well at times, South Carolina's passing game is not right, a long-time trend during Spurrier's tenure. Aside from his Missouri performance, Shaw has not thrown for 180 yards in a game this year, and the Gamecocks have attempted more than 24 passes in only two of their seven games. Against LSU, Shaw threw one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see from a competent quarterback, airmailing a pass about 10 yards past a receiver and two yards behind him as South Carolina tried to protect a 14-13 second-half lead. He handed three points to the Tigers, who went ahead for good. If the Gators rattle him like LSU did (Spurrier wondered if he had taken an early hit to the head because his decisions were so shaky), it will be a day to savor in the Swamp.
4) Why will this game almost certainly be close?
First, a disclaimer. You never know when a supposedly even game will turn into a rout like South Carolina-Georgia, but the Gators and Gamecocks are eerily similar statistically. Florida ranks 82 nationally in total offense (378.33 yards per game), and South Carolina ranks 83rd (378.29). South Carolina ranks 12th nationally in total defense (296.3), and Florida ranks 13th (297.2). The Gamecocks give up 108.7 rushing yards per game (21st); the Gators 107.5 (20th). The Gamecocks allow 187.6 passing yards per game; the Gators 189.7. Are you kidding me? The only significant difference between the two teams is turnovers, with South Carolina coughing up the ball 10 times to Florida's four. In what should be a defensive struggle, the winner will control the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
5) What are the X factors for South Carolina?
The Gamecocks aren't very good on special teams, but punt returner Ace Sanders is an exception. Although the Gators have allowed only 37 punt return yards on 10 attempts with a long of 11, they need to be very careful with Sanders, who can make would-be tacklers look silly. He is averaging 17.4 yards on 18 returns, including a touchdown return of 70 yards. He set up one of South Carolina's TDs against LSU with a long return. ? The Gamecocks are hurting physically. In addition to Lattimore, Clowney is nursing a sore foot, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (six tackles for loss) is doubtful with a shoulder injury and receivers Sanders and Bruce Ellington missed a day of practice with the flu.
FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Gamecocks players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
Smith Says: Lattimore is not as explosive as he was before tearing his ACL last season, but he will be dangerous if he plays. His short TD against LSU was beautiful. He kept his knee off the ground after being hit and knifed through an invisible hole with amazing balance.
Smith Says: A No. 1 national recruit who has lived up the hype, Clowney is a tower of terror who can take over games by himself. Overly aggressive at times, he might be susceptible to Florida's misdirection plays, particularly if his foot is bothering him.
3) Shaq Wilson, a 5-foot-11, 224-pound senior weakside linebacker
Smith Says: After a disappointing junior season, Wilson is back to the form that made former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson label him the smartest player he had coached. He has a team-high 44 tackles with two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Smith Says: Legree returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown against East Carolina and had another interception return of 70 yards. He leads an outstanding secondary that has not allowed a TD pass in the last three games.
Smith Says: Shaw's favorite target needs to have a big day for the Gamecocks to win. Ellington averaged 15.6 yards on 17 catches with two touchdowns.
FIVE FAST FACTS
1) For the first time in the history of the series, both teams are ranked in the top 10. The Gators are third in the Associated Press poll, while the Gamecocks are ninth, five spots higher than they have ever been when facing Florida. The Gators are 23-6-3 against the Gamecocks and 12-1 in Gainesville, although the lone loss was two years ago, 36-14, in an SEC East decider. Spurrier is 3-4 against Florida, winning in 2005, 2010 and 2011.
2) For all intents and purposes, South Carolina can eliminate Florida from the SEC East race with a victory. The Gamecocks would be tied with the Gators and Georgia in the loss column with head-to-head victories over both of them. If the Gamecocks prove good enough to win in The Swamp, there is no way they will lose at home to Tennessee or Arkansas in their remaining conference games. UF needs to sweep South Carolina and Georgia in the next two weeks to win the division. The Bulldogs won't lose their remaining conference games against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Auburn.
3) Florida has started slowly offensively in many of its games, and don't look for that trend to change Saturday. South Carolina has given up only 9 points in the first quarter through seven games, while the Gators have scored only 20 first-quarter points through six games.
4) If the game is decided by the kickers, South Carolina will be in big trouble. Placekicker Adam Yates is 3 of 5 with a long of 38. His misses have come from 36 and 33 yards. Punter Tyler Hull averages 38.4 yards and had one blocked.
5) South Carolina has 13 players from Florida, but only two start -Sanders, a junior from Bradenton, and Wilson, from Jacksonville. The Gators did not go after Sanders, a 4-star recruit, or Wilson, a 3-star recruit. The Gamecocks have four prominent backups from the Sunshine state -cornerbacks Akeem Auguste of Hollywood and Ahmad Christian of Jacksonville and offensive tackles Cody Gibson of Tallahassee and Mike Matulis of Boynton Beach. Florida has no one from South Carolina.