As we near the end of the college football season, each game magnifies in importance. Florida’s trip to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday is not the exception.
The Gators aim to continue their march toward the College Football Playoff and cannot afford a late slip up, while South Carolina looks to earn its first victory in nearly a month. Additionally, Gamecocks interim coach Shawn Elliott is looking for a marquee victory to bolster his resume before the university considers him as a candidate for the full-time position.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s SEC tilt:
No. 11 Florida Gators (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at South Carolina Gamecocks (3-6, 1-6 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14, noon ET (ESPN)
Weather: 61 degrees, 0 percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Florida -7.5
Series: Florida leads the series 24-8-3
By the numbers:
4 — This will be the fourth time since 1992 that Steve Spurrier will not be a part of the Florida-South Carolina game. The Head Ball Coach missed three meetings when he was coaching the Washington Redskins from 2002 to 2004. Spurrier was 5-5 against his alma mater while coaching at South Carolina and 10-0 against the Gamecocks as Florida’s coach.
17 — The South Carolina defense has surrendered 17 rushing touchdowns this season. Only three other SEC teams (Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas) have given up more touchdowns on the ground. South Carolina ranks 13th out of the 14 SEC teams in rushing yards allowed per game. The Gamecocks’ next challenge comes in the form of Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who’s averaging 70 yards per game and ranks fifth in the conference with 11 rushing touchdowns.
27 — Florida ranks second in the SEC with 27 sacks, trailing only Alabama’s 29. The Gators are tied for 13th in the nation in sacks and are averaging 3.0 per contest. Alex McCalister leads Florida with 6.5 sacks, but Jonathan Bullard is a close second with 5.0. Conversely, South Carolina has allowed 18 sacks this season, which ranks eighth in the SEC.
Story lines to watch:
How will the Gamecocks do in their first home game in nearly a month?
South Carolina last played at Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 17. Not coincidently, that was the last time the Gamecocks earned a win — a 19-10 defeat of Vanderbilt in Elliott’s first game as interim coach. South Carolina has endured a weird schedule this season, opening the year at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., against North Carolina, then playing a “home game” at Tigers Stadium against LSU because of flooding in the Columbia, S.C., region. These Gamecocks should be emotionally charged to return home for their final three games of the season. Whether that will translate to wins remains to be seen.
Can the South Carolina offense break through against the stingy Gators D?
South Carolina’s offense has seen steady improvement since Elliott became interim coach and G.A. Mangus took over as the sole play caller. The Gamecocks have posted two of their highest yardage totals of the season against Texas A&M (445) and Vanderbilt (424). Quarterback Perry Orth has shown glimpses of potential, while running back Brandon Wilds has proven to be an absolute workhorse. The Gamecocks now face their most daunting task in the form of the Florida defense, which has allowed 24 points or more only three times and allows the second-fewest yards per game in the SEC. However, the Gators will be without a handful of key cogs in defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Joey Ivie, as well as safety Keanu Neal.
Matchup to watch: Brandon Wilds vs. the Florida front seven
Florida boasts the SEC’s fourth-ranked rush defense, which is holding opposing running attacks to 114.4 yards per game and 3.4 yards per attempt. South Carolina’s leading rusher, Brandon Wilds, has caught fire since Elliott took over as interim coach. Wilds has averaged 20 carries over the last three games, which has translated to nearly 109 yards per game. Wilds has twice eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, but last week he was held in check to 79 yards on the road at Tennessee. Now it’s a matchup of strength against strength as Wilds takes on this vaunted Florida front seven.
Prediction: Florida 23, South Carolina 20
The line opened with Florida being a 10-point favorite, but throughout the week that has dropped to 7.5. Under Elliott, you can expect South Carolina to come out fired up in the team’s first home game in nearly a month. The players have stood behind Elliott throughout his tenure as interim coach, and they’ll need to secure a victory either Saturday against Florida or in their season finale against Clemson in order to give him a fair shot at the full-time gig.
Florida’s most convincing victory came two weeks ago against UGA on Halloween. Aside from that lopsided win, the Gators haven’t been blowing away the competition. In fact, four of Florida’s seven SEC games have been decided by a touchdown or less. That includes the loss to LSU and wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
South Carolina has not been an easy out for other SEC contenders. Since topping Vandy in their last home game Oct. 17, the Gamecocks fell short to Texas A&M by a touchdown and Tennessee by three the past two weeks on the road. South Carolina is close but has been unable to finish. Expect the Gamecocks to give Florida a run for its money in front of the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium.