South Carolina is heading into its final SEC game of the season with plenty on the line at Florida, from Will Muschamp’s return to SEC East title implications.
We take a closer look at five key things for the Gamecocks against the Gators (noon ET, CBS):
1. Keep it as just a game
There is a lot surrounding this game for South Carolina.
It starts with Muschamp heading back to coach in Gainesville, Fla., against his former school and some players he recruited to play for the Gators. There’s also a ceremony to honor Florida’s 1996 championship team, which will involve honoring former USC coach Steve Spurrier.
Oh, and with a bowl bid and SEC East implications on the line, there’s a lot happening for the Gamecocks.
But it’s only a game, and South Carolina needs to remember that. It’s a tall task, as the Gamecocks certainly will want to make a statement for Muschamp.
2. Returning to the road
South Carolina has found an identity, an offense and a winning team in the past three weeks. There are many factors involved in that, but one has to be playing at home for five straight games.
The Gamecocks now have to go back on the road, where their record is 1-2 this season. It’s also the biggest test not only because of the opponent, but also the environment. South Carolina’s young nucleus has not been thrown into something like The Swamp yet, so a lot will fall on Jake Bentley and Rico Dowdle to handle the moment.
3. Find a way to throw
The Gamecocks finally achieved balance offensively against Missouri. It took eight games, but both the passing and rushing attacks had it going against the Tigers.
What waits now is the SEC’s best team against the pass. The Gators are second nationally, allowing just 147.9 yards per game through the air. That success carries across the defense, as Florida is the nation’s No. 5 scoring defense and No. 3 total defense.
The Gamecocks have things moving in the right direction with Bentley at quarterback, but he’ll be tested by this Florida secondary, led by Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
4. Keep winning the turnover battle
Beyond the trend of an improved offense in the past three games, South Carolina also has built on its turnover margin recently. The Gamecocks have won the turnover battle in three straight games, bringing their turnover margin to an SEC-best plus-9.
That mark also puts the Gamecocks in a tie for the ninth-best margin in the nation. Other teams with the same or better margin? Michigan, Washington and Western Michigan (all unbeatens) and Ohio State.
5. Protect Bentley
Bentley has been under steady pressure in the past two games, being sacked 10 times and taking many more hits. The Gamecocks offensive line did elevate its play in the second half against Missouri, better protecting Bentley.
But the pass protection needs to be more consistent, as the Gamecocks have allowed a conference-worst 28 sacks.
Bentley’s decision-making on when to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack is one of the areas the freshman needs to improve.