No. 9 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Line: Florida -3
They say “There’s never an off-week in the SEC” and if there was ever a living, breathing embodiment of that statement, it’d be the South Carolina Gamecocks’ October 2012 schedule. Two weeks ago Georgia came to town. Last Saturday, South Carolina visited LSU. And this week, are playing back-to-back Top 10 opponents, well, now they have to go to No. 3 Florida.
Good times! Unless you’re a South Carolina fan.
For the Gamecocks, Saturday could end up being the biggest game of the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. A win gives them a stranglehold on the SEC East, and in turn will put them back into the BCS title hunt as well. A loss, and both dreams will essentially be vanquished.
Here’s what you need to know heading into the game.
For South Carolina to Win: They’ll need a better effort from Connor Shaw than what they got from their quarterback last Saturday at LSU. In the Gamecocks loss to Tigers, Shaw completed just 19 of 34 passes for 177 yards, and tossed two interceptions, after throwing just two in the first five games of the season.
More than the stats though, Shaw simply didn’t look comfortable in the pocket, and in turn South Carolina’s offense didn’t look comfortable because of it. A week after the Gamecocks put up 392 yards of total offense against Georgia, they put up barely put up half of that, with just 211 total yards.
That’s not going to cut it against anyone, let alone against Florida, which owns one of the nation’s Top 15 defenses.
For Florida to Win: They need to let Mike Gillislee loose! That’s because while Gillislee doesn’t have the best stats of any back in college football, he may have the most meaningful ones. In Florida’s two biggest games, Gillislee (and to their credit, the offensive line) have been at their best, with the senior back rushing for 146 yards in Florida’s upset win over LSU, after putting up 115 against Tennessee just a few weeks before.
And on Saturday, Gillislee could be in line for another big performance. South Carolina has an excellent defensive front, but do appear to be vulnerable. They did allow LSU freshman Jeremy Hill to rush for 124 yards last week, after all.
Speaking of the running game…
Key Player, South Carolina: Look, at this point, we know what we’re going to get from South Carolina’s defense (most likely “very stellar play”) and as we learned last week, the Gamecocks can’t rely solely on Connor Shaw to do it all by himself on the offensive side of the ball either. Meaning that on Saturday the running game is key, and with Marcus Lattimore banged up, it’s also why back-up Kenny Miles is key.
For whatever reason (be it injury, game-plan, whatever), Lattimore was limited to just 13 carries last week nearly 10 below his average (22.7) in SEC play this year. In turn, he finished with a meager 35 yards rushing, a fraction of the 106 yards a game he’s put up on average in conference play as well.
Look for Steve Spurrier to try and establish the run early and often on Saturday. And it will likely come on the back of Kenny Miles.
Key Player, Florida: Like every time they take the field, the fate of the offense (which in turn, almost always decides the fate of the game) is none other than Jeff Driskel. And given the way Driskel has played these last few weeks, that’s good news for Florida fans.
Simply put, in a year where young quarterbacks like Braxton Miller and Johnny Manziel have stolen headlines across college football, Driskel has been as important to his team’s success as anyone. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes, but more importantly, seems to be able to pick up big plays with his feet whenever his team needs them. Driskel’s 177 yards and three touchdowns against Vanderbilt were the difference in a win, and upset loss on the road.
Going against a banged up South Carolina front seven Saturday, Driskel could be in for another big one.
Key Stat: “10,” the number of fourth quarter points Florida allowed to Vanderbilt last weekend.
So why is that number important? Only because those 10 points was the only fourth quarter scoring Florida has allowed this season. That number is especially impressive considering the Gators have played two of college football’s most prolific offenses in Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Now, what does it mean for South Carolina? Only that if they play on winning this game, they better get their points early.
Look for another classic game in the Swamp.
For all his articles, insight and analysis on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.