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Conversing with the Enemy: Florida Gators Edition

Those of you who have been reading this site for a while are probably familiar with Gatorpilot, who is a regular commenter on Garnet and Black Attack and runs the Florida blog Orange and Blue Hue. Some of you may remember that I wrote a strongly worded reply to some negative things Gatorpilot had to say about our coach and program after we lost to Vanderbilt. However, despite our differences, Gatorpilot and I are actually pretty cool with each other. I'll have to admit that he runs a cool blog, and I guess he has a right to hate the guy who built Florida's program, even though it is kind of strange. Plus, I think we have proved Gatorpilot wrong in his estimation of our Gamecocks: Spurrier is not dead, and our future looks bright with a possible New Years Day bowl this year and a promising 2009 on the horizon.

Unfortunately, our next obstacle is a powerful Gators team that is winning against good teams by huge margins. Gatorpilot graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about this juggernaut they call the Florida Gators. My questions are in bold with his answers below. My answers to Gatorpilot's questions are here.

1. First of all, let's get the obligatory Spurrier question out of the way. You've outspokenly criticized Spurrier's choice to coach a division opponent. For his part, SOS claims that the novelty of playing his old team has worn off and that now this is just another game between two teams that need a win, Florida to preserve their national title aspirations and South Carolina to improve their chances at a premier New Years Day bowl. Urban Meyer is now calling the game a rivalry game, although some FloridaFlorida can consider a team a rival when that team has only beaten the Gators once in the past 20 years. How do you feel about Spurrier coming home for the second time? Is this still a unique, emotional game for you or did the Gators exorcise the demons by beating Spurrier the past two years, especially in last year's blowout victory? Do you think your feelings about this reflect those of the average Gators fan?

One thing I would like to make clear is that I have a great deal of respect for Steve Spurrier and his coaching accomplishments.  And my voice doesn't speak for Gator Nation when I say I'm still unhappy that he chose to coach at a school which plays the Gators yearly, but I know there are still plenty of people out there who feel that way.

The novelty may have worn off, but when Spurrier says "it's just another game" he's obviously glossing over reality.  This is not just another game, and won't be for as long as Spurrier is coaching in Columbia.  It's a big deal.  The Gators are vying for a national championship for the second time in three years.  Any success Spurrier enjoys over Florida destroys those hopes, and he knows that.  Personally, I think he enjoys it.  But that's just his nature.  He's a competitor, and a self-described "Old Testament" (eye for an eye) coach.  There is no doubt in my mind that he has Florida's administration and boosters in his thoughts every year when he plays the Gators.  After all, he never forgot a late field goal made by Georgia 30-something years ago, using it as a burning fire to start a dominating streak over the Bulldogs.  So why would he forget being "jilted" by Jeremy Foley and UF president Bernie Machen?

He also elevated the play of South Carolina, which -- no offense intended -- was once a team Florida didn't have to worry about too much.  The Gamecocks are now a more than competent SEC team.  Florida doesn't need any more difficult games.  The Gators have to play Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and FSU every year, and now we have to lump South Carolina in that group.
Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow did a lot to assuage Gator fears last year when they hung 51 points on the Gamecocks in South Carolina.  That seemed to be an emphatic statement that Florida football is still Florida football, with or without Steve Spurrier, and that was important for our collective psyche.

2. While Florida has always been good under Urban Meyer, the Gators are blowing out opponents by record margins since the stunning loss to Ole Miss. They've even done it to two former top-10 teams, LSU and Georgia. Honestly, Florida looks every bit as good as some of the best teams I've seen play, such as the mid-90s Nebraska team that blew out Spurrier's Gators in a national title game. Why is Florida peaking right now? Are they really this good, or have they feasted on opponents' mistakes? Can they maintain this level of play?

I'd be the first to tell you if I thought Florida was anything less than the real deal.  It seems fervent fans of their teams tend to focus on all their team warts.  I'm here to tell you, there aren't many warts.  Florida is playing as well as I have ever seen any Gators squad play, at any time in history, and right now are in the running to go down as possibly the greatest ever to play in Gainesville.  The defense is close to that magical 2006 season's level.  Special teams is off the charts with their blocked punts and return game.  And the offense is obviously ringing up pinball scores.  Florida could easily have scored 60-70 points on Georgia and LSU if Meyer hadn't called off the dogs.

What impresses me most is Florida's focus these past five games.  It's still a worry that they'll forget to show up for a game, like they did against Ole Miss, but they are on a different planet right now with regards to their discipline, preparation, and focus.  They seem to understand that if they win out, they will likely be playing for a crystal football, and are treating each and every game with total attention to detail.  Can they maintain this level?  I sure hope so.

See the rest after the jump.

3. The Gamecocks come into this game with one of the country's best defenses, while the Gators have one of the most explosive offenses we've seen in quite a few years. How will Tim Tebow and Friends attack the Gamecocks' D? What do you think the key matchups are? Do you think the Gamecocks are good enough to slow down the Gators offense at least a little bit, or will Florida turn this game into the same kind of touchdown derby they've become accustomed to over the past few weeks?

I expect they'll attack the Gamecocks the same way they have every other team this year -- that scary, multifaceted attack that seems impossible to predict.  I think you'll see plenty of Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody running out of the backfield.  Plenty of option.  And a few bombs down the field to accompany Florida's traditional short passing game.  Florida has so much speed at every position that they put a huge burden on opposing defenses.

4. Your defense is much improved from a year ago. What has been the difference?

The '07 team returned only 2 starters on defense.  This year the defense is still young but they're playing sound, fundamental defense and their talent is showing through.  They are among the conference's best defenses right now (especially scoring defense) but next year they'll be scary good.  The main difference is simply another year of experience, and also the learning experience of losing 4 games in painful fashion last season.

5. As usual, Florida has a number of high-profile players on their roster. Gamecocks fans (as well as the rest of the world) have all heard of Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon James, etc. Tell us a little bit about one Gator that we might not know a lot about but that will affect the outcome of Saturday's game.

Janoris Jenkins, a freshman cornerback who's playing close to an All-SEC level.  He wraps up as well as any senior, lays some big hits and has some serious 'ups'.  Joe Haden was a good CB as a freshman also, he's even better now as a sophomore.  These are two very good, and highly underrated cornerbacks who can make life hell for Stephen Garcia.

6. Give us a prediction. Who will win the game and what will some of the key moments be?

There'll be at least one blocked punt.  I predict a relatively tight first half thanks to South Carolina's solid defense.  But the 'Cocks won't be able to keep up with the Gators and we'll see Florida pull away in the 3rd quarter.  I'll go with UF 38, USC 17.