South Carolina takes break from SEC slate to battle The Citadel

The 14th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks step away from their brutal SEC slate to play host to The Citadel Bulldogs, an FCS opponent, this Saturday.

This game marks the finale for The Citadel, which enters with a disappointing 4-6 record. Members of the Southern Conference, the Bulldogs have lost their last two outings, including a 19-14 setback to Samford last weekend.

"We have another football game and another week to work," said head coach Kevin Higgins after the disappointing loss. "We will continue to work hard and go out and compete on Saturday."

While certainly not garnering the same headlines as Penn State these days, The Citadel has its own sex abuse scandal brewing. It's unclear if it will have an impact on the football team, but the school is doing its best to limit any collateral damage.

As for South Carolina, it has won four of its last five games to move to 8-2 overall, including 6-2 in SEC action. Last weekend, the Gamecocks put forth a solid defensive showing in a 17-12 triumph over Florida.

"This was a special one. I don't mind telling you," said South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who achieved great success as both a player and a coach at UF. "I told the team when I took this job seven years ago some of my buddies in Florida said, 'Steve, you're crazy. You'll get your butt beat like every South Carolina coach has. You can't beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee."

South Carolina sits one game back of Georgia in the SEC East Division and needs the Bulldogs to falter over the final two weeks to earn a trip to the SEC Championship Game. Today's matchup with The Citadel will have no impact on that race.

The Gamecocks hold a commanding 39-7-3 series advantage over The Citadel, and the programs haven't met in more than three decades.

Through 10 games, The Citadel is scoring 23.8 ppg while gaining 325.8 total ypg, modest numbers by most accounts. The team has only attempted 72 passes this season, seven of which have been intercepted, so it is obvious that the ground attack is the sole source of offensive production. The Bulldogs are running for 291.2 ypg at a clip of 5.3 yards per attempt, and 28 of their 29 offensive scores have been of the rushing variety. Durien Robinson paces a loaded backfield with 774 yards and eight touchdowns, while QB Ben Dupree has rushed for 584 yards and eight scores as well.

Opponents are generating 21.6 ppg and 330.9 total ypg against a solid Bulldogs' defensive unit. The team is yielding a mere 3.8 yards per rushing attempt and under 11 yards per pass completion, numbers that will usually yield a record better than 4-6 through 10 games. Unfortunately, many of the losses have been close this season, five by 10 points of fewer to be exact.

Taking a look at the five-point loss to Samford last time out, The Citadel finished with 15 first downs, 10 fewer than its counterpart, and the one- dimensional offensive attack simply couldn't put enough points on the board to avoid defeat. Robinson ran for 84 yards on 22 carries in that affair, while Dupree scored twice on the ground. One of his two passes was intercepted, however, as good things rarely happen when The Citadel puts the ball in the air.

South Carolina is generating 28.6 ppg this season to go along with 361.2 total ypg, but the offense has struggled to move the ball and score points since star tailback Marcus Lattimore was lost with a knee injury. Lattimore ran for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games, and replacing that production has proven to be impossible for Spurrier's group. Connor Shaw is the quarterback of the Gamecocks and is mediocre at best by SEC standards. He has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 791 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions and needs to do more to get the ball to talented WR Alshon Jeffery. Vastly underutilized, Jeffery has just 38 catches for 504 yards and five TDs this season.

The Gamecocks are a solid defensive team that holds opponents to 19.3 ppg and 282.5 total ypg. They are permitting just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt and 9.9 yards per pass completion, proof that they can get the job done against both means of attack. The fact that South Carolina has come up with 17 interceptions to go along with 12 fumble recoveries has been an obvious key to the eight wins. There are four players on the roster with three picks, including leading tackler Antonio Allen.

Last week against Florida, Shaw had a pair of second-quarter touchdown runs, the only two times the Gamecocks would reach the end zone in the tilt. They finished with 299 total yards, 215 of which came via the ground attack. The defense was stellar, holding UF to one touchdown and 261 total yards. The pass defense permitted just 9.2 yards per connecting, preventing Florida from making big plays.