Here are my thoughts on this weekend's game.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Back Seven Must Continue to Gel and Avoid Giving Up Big Plays. Florida has suffered a myriad of injuries on its offensive line this season; in fact, the Gators didn't have a single player starting against Vandy who had started the same position in the opening game of the season. The Gators are far down their depth chart at tackle, which allowed Vandy to rack up four sacks and force multiple turnovers. The Gamecocks' excellent defensive line should have a field day against these guys. In order to minimize Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, and company's ability to dictate the nature of the game, the Gators will likely try to run the football, work the short pass, and run some wildcat. Against the run, it's important that our linebackers play their assignments and finish tackles, and against the short pass, our linebackers and defensive backs will need to tackle with discipline. Florida has a couple of dangerous receivers in Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar who are capable of making us pay if we miss a tackle in the short passing game. Compounding this challenge is the possibility that Brison Williams may be out with an ankle injury suffered in practice. If Brison doesn't play, Kadetrix Marcus and T.J. Gurley will be called upon to make a bigger contribution, and both have struggled this year, although both are capable of playing at a high level.
2. Offense Must Protect the Football. In a game in which we're likely to have a lot of success defensively, Florida's best chance to spring an upset will be forcing turnovers. Even if Connor Shaw, Mike Davis, and company don't move the football at a torrid clip, we're unlikely to lose this game if Florida doesn't generate big points swings from turnovers. Barring drastically improved offensive play, they're simply unlikely to score more than 14 points or so otherwise. You have to like our chances of limiting offensive turnovers with a healthy Connor Shaw at the helm, but Florida's defensive line remains a disruptive force, and it could easily rattle Connor into some mistakes. Davis, too, will need to beat the fumble bug that's plagued him at times this year.
1. Special Teams Must Avoid Mistakes. Same general point here; the Gators are unlikely to generate tons of offense in this game, but one place they can hurt us is by forcing special teams turnovers and/or making something happen in the return game. We all remember how fumbles in the return game affected last year's game. Florida is also a formidable team in the return game; KR Solomon Patton ranks 11th in the nation in return average and has a 100-yard return to his credit. The Gamecocks haven't been terrible in return coverage, though, so what I tend to most worry about is fumbles on our own returns.
In addition to the points mentioned above, another key to this game is focus. The Gamecocks' minds are going to be on what happens in the UGA-AU game earlier in the afternoon, and if UGA wins and all but eliminates Carolina from the SEC East race, that may affect our guys' mentally. However, with good offensive leadership from Shaw and a defense that should be able to take care of business against a depleted Gators offense, we should be able to weather the storm if UGA wins.
I expect a close game in the first half tomorrow, as the Gators' defense is good enough to keep our offense in check early on. However, as the game wears on, watch for our defense to force lots of short drives for the Gators. Particularly with a healthy Connor Shaw leading the way, our running game will be able to punish the Gators' defense in the second half as we finish out a 27-10 victory that won't have been as close as the score indicates.