GAME: #22 Florida vs #23 South Carolina
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a.k.a The Swamp
At Stake: SEC East Championship
Where can I watch? : ESPN @ 7pm
The Florida Gators can salvage their season this Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Swamp. This possibility laid latent in the minds of Gator fans after a brutal 3 game stretch in October that saw the Gators lose 3 straight to 3 ranked SEC teams, but seemed like a stretch to most, including myself. However, after a two game rebirth, Florida fans can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. That “light” is the possibility of playing for the SEC championship in Atlanta later on in the year. In the preseason, Urban Meyer made it clear that “returning to Atlanta” was the overall objective of the season. It is an obvious goal when you consider that the last 4 SEC champs have gone on to win the MNC.
There isn’t, nor will there be, any talk of playing for the MNC this year at Florida, but Gator fans would be more than happy to play for, and win, the SEC crown. In order to do so, Florida must first butt heads with a familiar foe, the Ol Ball Coach himself.
Spurrier comes back to Gainesville on Saturday with his most talented team since he took over in Columbia. The offense is lead by a trio that is as good as any combination in college football; freshman sensation RB Marcus Lattimore, future first round pick WR Alshon Jeffery, and QB Stephen Garcia. The play of these three will in all likelihood determine the Gamecocks chances. Lattimore has already hit pay dirt 11 times this year, while averaging a cool 94 yards per game, and Jeffery is averaging 17+ yards in his 59 catches to go along with 7 receiving touchdowns. South Carolina has looked brilliant at times this season but also uninspired in some games. The home win against what was then considered to be an unbeatable Alabama team stands out as Spurrier’s biggest win as a Gamecock. His masterful play calling kept the Tide defense on their heels all game as he mixed equal doses of Lattimore and Jeffery, to the tune of 5 combined TDs. However, let down games against Kentucky and Arkansas makes one wonder which Gamecock team will show up at the Swamp on Saturday.
Florida would not be in this position had it not been for an offensive revival after hitting rock bottom against Mississippi State. The bye week in between the MSU and Georgia games clearly did Florida some good. In the last two wins, the Gators have racked up 930 yards of offense and scored 89 points. This revival was made possible by 2 things; the recuperation of several key players and the return to the Spread Option offense.
The offense has received a boost from players returning from injury and Chris Rainey returning from a 5 game suspension. Since his return, Rainey has accounted for 176 yards of offense, 2 TDs and 2 blocked punts to jumpstart the offense. RB Mike Gillislee returned for the Vanderbilt game and scored 2 touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Starting RB Jeff Demps only played against Georgia and scored a touchdown while rushing and receiving for 81 yards. Demps is expected to play against S.C. and he was held back last week for this reason.
Another player that has made a huge difference in the offense is new QB Jordan Reed. Reed (redshirt freshmen) missed some time earlier in the year with a bruised knee. He has played TE and wingback for most of the season. Recruited as a QB/Athlete, Reed was moved over to TE to fill the void left by departing underclassmen Aaron Hernandez (now starting for the Patriots) in the spring. But with the offense in shamble and QB John Brantley limited in his ability to be a run/pass threat, the coaching staff called on Reed and fellow freshman Trey Burton to play the role of Tim Tebow in the spread option. Burton ran for 110 yards against Georgia and scored twice. Reed, the much bigger (6’3, 240lbs) and more polished passer of the 2 freshmen, was called on to play against the Commodores and he responded by passing for 120 yards on 11 of 19 attempts for 1 TD and rushing for 84 yards and another touchdown.
John Brantley continues to be the “starting” quarterback for the Gators. He is the passing quarterback of this offense and the veteran leader, but the coaching staff has finally dropped the idea that he can be an effective spread option quarterback. In the last 2 games, Brantley has gone 27 for 43 for 350 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. These are not spectacular numbers by any means, but in this diminished role, the offense has taken off. The Gators will continue with this 3 headed monster at the QB position going forward, often sending all 3 out at the same time to confuse defenses. Brantley will pass, Burton will run the option, and Reed will do a little of both as he is now the best suited to run the Spread Option that Meyer feels is the identity of the offense.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- The biggest individual match up will be between Gator cover corner Janoris Jenkins and Jeffery. Jenkins has done a great job all year and managed to keep other big names such as A.J. Green and Julio Jones at bay. If Jenkins can shut down Jeffery, the Gators will have the advantage of stacking up against the run.
- South Carolina ground attack against the Gator front 7 will also be a key. The winner of this battle will greatly increase its chances of winning the game. The freshman Lattimore is a physical back and Florida relies more on speed and gang tackling than physicality on defense. Florida must do a better job tackling and being “gap sound”. Rising star freshman DT Sharrif Floyd could be a difference maker busting up the middle.
- The Gamecocks lead the SEC in sacks. Florida has been atrocious in picking up the blitz and protecting Brantley in general. If S.C. can keep the pressure on the Florida QBs, the Gators will have a hard time winning this one.
- Florida needs to remain creative on offense. They need mix up the play calling and get the best out of their 3 quarterbacks. Reed will run a lot and look to make S.C. pay through the air when it sells out on the run.
- Florida needs its playmakers to make big plays. The Rainey-Demps duo needs to step up, and the ground game must be productive. Mike Gillislee will be instrumental and the receivers must step up and make big plays when called upon. Last week WRs Deonte Thompson and Frankie Hammond each had a long TD catch. Florida will need the same type of play to beat Spurrier.
THIS AND THAT
- Spurrier has never won in Gainesville as a Gamecock. In fact, neither have the Gamecocks. Last time around the Gators trounced the Ol Ball Coach 56-6.
- DT Jaye Howard has practiced this week and should be able to play some on Saturday.
- Andre Debose is taking reps as the punt and kickoff returner in practice. He will in all likelihood do both on Saturday.
- The Gators will be hosting a slew of potential recruits on Saturday, so the atmosphere in the Swamp will be electric to say the least
This game should be a dandy with a trip to Atlanta on the line. Mix in the “Spurrier returns to Gainesvile” storyline and you got yourself a potential classic. Both teams have tons of talent and skill and both were favorites to win the East in the preseason and now it comes down to 4 quarters of football.
Final score: UF 34 – S.C. 28
Gator win 60%
S.C. win 40%
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Written by The Gator Great