Gators game preview: South Carolina

ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- GatorNation is previewing each of Florida’s 2012 opponents. Today is South Carolina (Oct. 20 in Gainesville).


2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC), beat Nebraska 30-13 in Capital One Bowl.

Coach: Steve Spurrier, eighth season (55-35); 23rd season overall (197-75-2).

Series record: Florida leads 23-6-3.

Top returners: QB Connor Shaw (123-188-6, 1,448 yards, 14 TDs; 525 yards, 8 TDs rushing); RB Marcus Lattimore (818 yards, 10 TDs); DE Jadeveon Clowney (36 tackles, 8 sacks); FS D.J. Swearinger (80 tackles, 3 INTs).

Did you know? The Gamecocks are 8-0 over the past two seasons against rivals Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Clemson.

Scouting the offense: Lattimore is coming back from an ACL injury, which he suffered in the seventh game of the 2011 season, but reports are that he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab so he should be ready for the season. Shaw may be the QB Spurrier has been looking for since he got to South Carolina in 2005. He’s a dual-threat player with better-than expected accuracy (65.4 percent). The biggest question is at receiver, where someone has to emerge to replace Alshon Jeffery.

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 likes to blitz more but won’t change the scheme. The line is as good as any in the country, and it’s led by Clowney and 6-foot-7, 267-pound DE Devin Taylor.

Three things to watch

  1. 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 to limit what he does with his feet and force him to throw, because that’s a matchup the Gators should win. UF’s secondary is much better than South Carolina’s receivers.

  2. Stopping Lattimore is goal No. 1, but not many teams have been able to do that. He had 212 yards in the 2010 matchup, which was just 14 yards shy of UF’s total offensive output. He’s got power and speed and, if completely healthy, is a legitimate Heisman candidate. The key is to limit his effectiveness. Don’t give up big runs and make him work for every yard.

  3. This is another big game for UF’s offensive tackles (Matt Patchan, Chaz Green, Xavier Nixon). But they should be prepared for what they’re going to see, because they’ll have faced LSU’s ends two weeks before. They’ll have help, but they’ve got to win some one-on-one battles.