SEC Eastern Division rivals square off in Gainesville this Saturday, as the ninth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks come calling on the third-ranked Florida Gators.
South Carolina had opened the season a stellar 6-0, but suffered a 23-21 loss at LSU last weekend to fall into second place in the SEC East behind undefeated Florida. The Gamecocks, who had won a school-record 10 straight games dating back to last season, already have a win over rival Georgia under their belt, so a victory over the Gators this week will keep their hopes of reaching the SEC Championship Game alive. USC is coached by Steve Spurrier, who had his greatest success both as a player and coach at Florida.
Florida is 6-0 for the third time in the last six years, and the eighth time in school history. In both 1996 and 2006 when the Gators started as quickly, they won the national championship so there is reason for excitement. The Gators beat Vanderbilt (31-17) for the 22nd consecutive time last week, and they were awarded the second slot in the initial BCS rankings as a result. UF appears to have a shot at making the SEC title tilt should they get past the Gamecocks this week, and Georgia next.
Florida leads the all-time series with South Carolina, 23-6-3, and has won 12 of the previous 13 meetings in Gainesville. UF is 17-3 against USC since the Gamecocks started playing in the SEC back in 1992. South Carolina has won the last two meetings however, including a 17-12 decision last year in Columbia. In 2010, the Gamecocks claimed their first-ever win in Gainesville, taking a 36-14 decision.
The Gamecocks failed to establish a ground presence in last week's loss to LSU, but that's not surprising considering the Tigers possess one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. USC running back Marcus Lattimore was held to 35 yards on 13 carries, although he did score a TD. As for QB Connor Shaw, he threw for 177 yards and two scores, but was picked off twice and sacked four times. Ace Sanders led the receiving corps with five grabs for 49 yards and a TD, but USC finished with only 211 total yards compared to 407 for the home team.
Spurrier cited the running game for both teams, and LSU's defense as the major contributors to USC suffering its first loss of the season.
"They were running much better than we thought they would. We didn't run it here as well as we hoped we would. That was probably the huge difference in the game right there," He continued, "We've played some good defenses, but they're really good. They were really good tonight."
South Carolina comes into this contest averaging 34.1 ppg, and while far from flashy, balance is the order of the day as the team runs for 160.4 ypg and throws for another 217.9 ypg. Of the 30 TDs credited to the offense, 14 have come on the ground and 16 through the air. Lattimore is the team's leading rusher (584 yards, 10 TDs) and receiver (22 receptions), while Shaw has hit the mark on 69.4 percent of his passes for 910 yards, nine TDs and four interceptions.
The Gamecocks defense did an admirable job against the pass (148 yards, one interception) last week, but was gashed for 258 rushing yards by the Tigers, who averaged nearly five yards per carry. Shaq Wilson recorded a career-high 14 tackles with a sack to pace the unit, while D.J. Swearinger and Victor Hampton tallied 10 tackles apiece.
USC is giving up just 12.3 ppg behind typical outputs of only 108.7 ypg rushing and 187.6 ypg passing. Wilson leads the team with 44 stops, and he has a pair of picks to his credit as well. Jadeveon Clowney owns 6.5 of the team's league-leading 26 sacks, while Chaz Sutton has taken down the opposing quarterback four times.
Jeff Driskel rushed for 177 yards, the most ever by a Florida quarterback, and scored three TDs to power the Gators to their recent win over Vanderbilt. When the dust had settled in a game that featured a wide-open fourth quarter, Florida had amassed 326 yards on the ground, 403 in all. On the negative side, the Gators were penalized 10 times for a loss of 80 yards, and they converted just 2-of-11 third-down attempts.
The UF defense limited the Commodores to just 2.7 yards per carry and held them scoreless on two of their five trips to the red zone, all while securing three sacks and nine stops in all behind the line of scrimmage. Antonio Morrison led the Gators with eight tackles, six of which were solo efforts.
Driskel has rushed for 326 yards and four TDs this season, ranking second on the team behind Mike Gillislee and his 615 yards and seven scores. The young UF signal-caller has connected on 66.7 percent of his throws for 836 yards, but with only four passing TDs, opposing defense can focus more of their energy on trying to stop the run -- something they've been unable to do with any consistency thus far.
Florida's scoring yield (12.3 ppg) is right in line with South Carolina's, and the Gators have been effective against both the run (107.5 ypg) and the pass (189.7 ypg) this year. Florida leads the SEC in time of possession (33:53), which means the defense gets ample time to rest and plan for the next series.
Current Florida head coach Will Muschamp knows Spurrier is revered in Gainesville like no other.
"Obviously coach Spurrier winning a Heisman trophy here and his 12 years as head coach here will probably never be repeated. You look at six SEC titles and the 1990 season, had the best record in the SEC, and National Championship, and really put Florida on the map as far as winning championships in football. I've asked him before why it didn't happen before and he never gives me a good reason but he just did a phenomenal job here as the head coach, and a guy that's very well respected and a guy that I've got a tremendous amount of respect for."