Will a miracle happen this weekend? Can an injury-depleted, slumping South Carolina team upset the mighty Florida Gators? Here are my thoughts on the game.
1. Score Points
In the last four games, we've scored 6, 14, 13, and 16 points in each game. That should worry you going into this game, in which we're taking on one of the best defenses in the country. Florida isn't N.C. State, and there's no way we're going to win this one by a 7-3 or a 14-10 margin. The Gators will likely score at least in the low-20s, and that's if our defense plays well and we don't give up any points off turnovers. That means we're going to have to score around 10 points ahead of our average over the past few games to get the win.
On the bright side, the Gamecocks have actually moved the ball quite well lately, having gained about 1500 yards over the past three games. The problem is that we've had numerous drives stall out around around the opponent's 40, as well as a few trips to the goal line that haven't resulted in TDs. At this point, this kind of behavior has become a trend, so it's reasonable to doubt whether we can change it now. You have to think, though, that a few key changes by the offensive staff could make a difference.
2. Stop the Run
Florida is going to show us all sorts of rushing looks. Option plays, HB dives, QB draws. The Gators have one of the best rushing offenses in the country. We haven't done much to stop the run over the past couple of weeks, and things might be even grimmer this week if Cliff Matthews and Devin Taylor are both out. Whoever gets the starts, we're going to have to really step it up in this regard this week if we're going to keep Florida from piling it on late.
While we certainly can't afford to commit any turnovers ourselves, what I'm really pointing to here is that our defense needs to create some turnovers. Our offense, Tennessee game aside, isn't turnover prone itself, and I have faith in their ability to continue to protect the ball against Florida. I don't have faith in our defense's ability to force them, though. So far this year, we haven't been able to do that very often. In fact, we haven't forced a turnover in the last three games. That has to change this week. Scoring points off turnovers is the classic recipe for an upset, and I see that as being one of the keys to tipping the scale in our favor.
If it sounds like I'm repeating myself with these keys this week, I am. These have been our bugaboos for the past several weeks, and finding a way to improve in these areas is what we're going to have to do to get our season on track.
What This Game Means
Well, obviously, a win in this game would be a season-saver. And I don't think it's out of the realm of possbilities. Unlike last year's version of the Gators, this year's team seems beatable, even if they're still undefeated. They've had a few close games and have generally looked about as vulnerable as an undefeated team can look. On the other hand, this year's Gamecocks appears to have all the tools in place to have a great offense, other than perhaps an offensive line. It hasn't all come together yet, but if it did Saturday, I think we could win. On the other hand, a loss isn't necessarily the end of the world. We'll still be able to salvage the season with a win over Clemson and a good bowl showing. We have to, though, keep this one respectable. A bad loss would be disastrous for this team's psyche, and the fan's would likely give up on this team.
As said, I don't think a win is out of the question here. If we maximize our scoring opportunities and play over our heads defensively and force a couple of key turnovers, we should be right there with the Gators. Moreover, this game is at home. If the game is close late, the W-B will be rocking, and that will certainly play to our favor. However, the thought of us playing the perfect game at this point in the year, after we've had a lot of evidence indicating this team's failures, seems unlikely. Moreover, the Gators are a great team, not the kind of team you finally put it all together against. I think we're going to see a good performance out of our guys this week, but I think that, in the end, Florida will prevail. Let's say 31-24.