Three Keys to a USC victory in the Swamp
3. Avoid turnovers. While not as good as it has been the past two years, the Gators still have one of the better defenses in the SEC, certainly much better than the past couple of teams we've played. Florida has a defensive front that's very capable of producing pressure, and its corners, especially Vernon Hargreaves, will make Carolina pay if Dylan Thompson throws errant balls. Carolina's line must protect Dylan, and when pressured, Dylan needs to make good decisions with the football. Given how bad the defense is, Carolina won't win this game if it gives Florida extra possessions.
2. Stay creative on offense. Lost amidst the gnashing of teeth over the Gamecocks' defensive woes is the brilliance of Carolina's offense. Steve Spurrier and his staff have drawn up some truly creative gameplans this season, and for the most part, Dylan, Pharoh Cooper, and the rest of the gang have executed. With the Gamecocks defense continuing to struggle and a tough Gators defense across the line, the Gamecocks must keep the offensive magic going against the Gators if they're going to have a chance to win.
1. Defensive lineup changes must pay dividends, and the Gamecocks must stop the run to at least some extent. Lorenzo Ward is finally making some significant lineup changes. The starting linebacker duo will be Skai Moore at Mike and Jonathan Walton at Will. Moore is not big enough to be a natural Mike, particularly against a bruising Florida running game, but I like the move. The Gamecocks weren't getting much production out of Marcquis Roberts, T.J. Holloman, or Kaiwan Lewis at the position, so Moore is unlikely to do worse. At the very least, perhaps he can disrupt the short passing game over the middle with his athleticism. The key to the roster change here is getting Walton on the field more. Walton has played well when he's gotten the chance and needs more playing time. This change is essentially about getting the best two linebackers on the field regardless of how well they fit the position they're playing. That's something Ward should have tried long ago given how poorly his previous lineups have worked out.
The other change is moving Brison Williams back to safety. This move has its pros and cons. The con is that Williams has been a liability as a tackler all season due to his arm injury, and putting him back at safety may magnify that problem, particularly against a Florida team that will want to run the ball as much as possible. On the other hand, Williams is a natural safety and knows the position well, and getting him back at his natural position means less Chris Moody, who has been a major liability for Carolina all season long. Rico McWilliams and Chris Lammons will start at corner, and I think they're capable against Florida's weak passing game.
In any event, we need to hope that these changes are part of the puzzle to better defensive play. The biggest key to this game defensively, though, is going to be something I'm not optimistic about: Defensive line play. The Gators have found their identity as a power run team in recent weeks, and you can be sure they're going to run the ball as long as they're able tomorrow. If South Carolina can force passing downs from the Gators, the 'Cocks have a chance. Our secondary is defending the pass better and better lately, and moving Brison back to safety should help even more in that regard. But if we can't win some battles up front, the Gators aren't going to pass the ball downfield much.
The defensive lineup changes are something I've wanted to see, and that gives me some hope that the defense will play better against Florida. That said, these changes are likely to help Carolina much more in passing defense than rushing defense. With a formidable Gators run game matching up against Carolina's pitiful defensive line, it seems unlikely that Carolina will be able to force the Gators to pass much. That's a shame, because the Florida passing game versus an improving Carolina pass defense is a good matchup for us, but it's a reality at this point that we're unlikely to have success stopping the run. I think Carolina will again impress offensively, but it won't be enough. 35-27 Gators.