Our tenth game of the season brings a formidable opponent to Williams-Brice, the Florida Gators. Last year, Florida avenged two consecutive losses to the Gamecocks by serving us a crushing 44-11 defeat in Gainesville. The loss effectively kept us out of the SEC Championship Game, which turned out to be a play-in game for the BCS National Championship Game. Costly loss, needless to say. The ugly defeat came in large part due to turnovers. Believe it or not, South Carolina outgained Florida 191-183, and there were times in the first half when it looked like South Carolina might be able to take control of the game. However, two quick special teams turnovers towards the end of the half put Carolina way behind going into the second against a team whose defense was simply too much to allow us to get back into the game. It goes without saying that you can't go into a hostile road environment against a team like Florida and expect to compete if you turn the ball over the way we did.
Last year, the Gators had an all-around excellent defense that was good against both the pass and the run, as we saw. They also had excellent special teams units, which should continue to be the case despite having to break in new kickers. The offense was inconsistent, though. They had some success with a bludgeoning rushing attack, but the passing game was generally ineffective. The offensive line couldn't protect Jeff Driskel, who struggled to get the ball out ahead of the rush, and the receiving corps struggled to get open down field and to gain yards after the catch. It may be more of the same for Florida this year. The Gators do lose a bevy of defensive talent to the NFL, but it appears likely that they'll merely reload on that side of the ball. They get Ronald Powell back from injury, and he may in fact improve their defense by providing the big-time pass rusher they lacked last year. Offense remains a question mark. Driskel has the physical tools to be a good QB, but he has to develop a better internal clock in the pocket and learn to read defenses better. The receiving corps still appears to be substandard, with the Gators hoping that DB Loucheiz Purifoy will be able to moonlight at receiver and provide the deep threat they lacked last season. I have no doubt the talented Purifoy can give them some production, but it seems doubtful that he's going to be a game-changer for this unit as an offense-defense threat. The Gators lose talented OL Xavier Nixon and Matt Wilson, although there's some hope in the Florida camp that an influx of more versatile linemen might help them against the speed rush. Mike Gillislee is gone, but Matt Jones should be a good replacement at tailback.
Particularly if the Gamecocks win at Georgia early in the season, this game could decide the SEC East. If Florida is again a team with a stout defense and an inconsistent, mistake-prone offense, expect another ugly slugfest against this team in Columbia in November. This will basically be a tug-of-war in which Florida has the better defense and we have the better offense, but the two defenses will likely have the advantages. That being the case, this game could come down to turnover margin and special teams play. Florida beat us soundly in those categories last year, but for all the talk about how Florida targeted our "violators" and forced game-changing turnovers, Florida was plenty prone to ball-protection issues itself, giving up some costly turnovers in losses to Georgia and Louisville. There's just as much chance of Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney forcing mistakes from Florida and Driskel as there is of a repeat of last year's contest, more of a chance, probably, considering the game is in Columbia. Another thing to be aware of in this one is that we get a bye week to rest the wounded prior to this game, while Florida doesn't. I'm calling a close Carolina win.
For a decent breakdown of this game from the opposing side, see this post at Alligator Army.