GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Florida, which sits atop the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, plays host to No. 9 South Carolina on Saturday at Florida Field. Here’s a look at the Gamecocks:
Record: 6-1 (4-1 SEC).
Coach: Steve Spurrier, eighth season (61-36); 23rd season overall (203-76-2).
Series record: Florida leads 23-6-3.
Top players: QB Connor Shaw (75-108-4, 910 yards, 9 TDs; 280 yards, 1 TDs rushing); RB Marcus Lattimore (584 yards, 10 TDs); DE Jadeveon Clowney (31 tackles, 6.5 sacks); LB Shaq Wilson (44 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 2 INTs).
Scouting the offense: Lattimore shows no sign of any lingering effects of the torn ACL he suffered in the seventh game of the 2011 season. He’s averaging 83.4 yards per game rushing. Shaw struggled in last week’s loss to LSU, but the junior has been solid this season. He’s not a great passer, but he’s getting the job done thanks to a couple of good receivers in Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders, both of whom have 17 catches. Lattimore is also a big factor in the passing game (team-high 22 catches). The Gamecocks are playing similar offensive football to Florida. They want to be physical and run the ball and make just enough plays in the passing game to keep teams from selling out to stop the run.
Scouting the defense: The defense ranked third nationally in total defense last season but lost defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to Southern Mississippi. New coordinator Lorenzo Ward has picked up right where Johnson left off, though. The Gamecocks are giving up just 12.3 points per game (second in the SEC) and allowing teams only 296.3 yards per game (third in the SEC). South Carolina leads the SEC in sacks (26), with Clowney leading the way. He’s a force on either end of the line and the Gamecocks like to move him around. The Gamecocks have only given up three touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns, numbers which are bested only by Alabama in the SEC.
Three keys to watch:
Shaw was yet another mobile quarterback who hurt the Gators last season, rushing for 88 yards and two TDs in the Gamecocks’ 17-12 victory. UF has been much better against mobile QBs this season, though. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel hurt the Gators in the first half, but UF bottled him up in the second half and have been much more disciplined since then. Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers hurt the Gators with his feet last season but was no factor on Saturday. UF needs to contain Shaw and force him to throw because that’s a matchup the Gators should win. Even with the emergence of Sanders and Ellington, the Gators have the advantage because of how well the secondary has been playing.
LSU limited Lattimore to 35 yards and one touchdown, and the Gators need to mimic the Tigers’ approach: Gang tackle, don’t give up double-digit yardage runs, and make him work for every yard he gets. That means the defensive line is going to have to play better than it did against Vanderbilt. The Commodores pushed the Gators around a bit and ended up rushing for 126 yards.
UF’s offensive tackles (Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon/D.J. Humphries) are going to have to play as well as they did against LSU to keep Clowney from setting up camp in the backfield. LSU’s embattled offensive line did a good job against the Gamecocks and Clowney. They had just one sack and it wasn’t from Clowney. With Nixon’s status up in the air because of an upper body injury, expect the Gamecocks to pick on Humphries and line up Clowney against the true freshman as much as possible.