Battle for Atlanta
South Carolina would not be mathematically eliminated from the SEC East race if they lose this game, but all the stars that would have to align for them to lose Saturday and still play in the SEC championship game in Atlanta are too hard to even think about, much less expect. The bottom line is, the Gamecocks virtually have to win Saturday to keep their seasons major goals alive.
A win, conversely, wont lock up the title. The Gamecocks are seeking their second trip to the title game in three years (and their second trip all-time). Florida would become big favorites to win the East with a victory Saturday although likely would have to knock off Georgia to cement the crown. Two years ago, the Gamecocks clinched their only division title in The Swamp, a memory several players said could help Saturday.
Will there be a running back showdown?
The game was supposed to pit two of the conferences best backs against other, but South Carolinas Marcus Lattimore may not play due to a hip injury. Lattimore missed last years game against the Gators after tearing his ACL, but he remembers fondly his only other trip to The Swamp. In 2010, he carried the ball 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns to lead South Carolina to a win.
Meanwhile, Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee, who is one of the surprises in the league this year and averaging more than 100 yards per game, may be licking his chops at the prospect of facing a Gamecock defensive line that is expected to be without starting tackle Byron Jerideau and could be without top backup J.T. Surratt.
Saturdays game would have been tough enough without all the injuries and illness South Carolina has endured this week. The Gamecocks are playing their third straight game that pits top 10 teams, a first in program history, and this will be their second weekend on the road.
Consider the Gamecocks calendar for a moment: Lose to LSU 23-21 in the most physical game of the year which ends near midnight Eastern time, fly home to Columbia for a day of rest and four days of practice, on Friday fly to Florida, where one of the nations most intimidating venues awaits. Add to that center T.J. Johnson, wide receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington, cornerback Jimmy Legree and offensive tackle Mike Matulis all battled what Steve Spurrier called a flu bug and youve got the recipe for some tired legs Saturday.
Seeing the field
Spurrier has made it clear multiple times this week that he was disappointed in quarterback Connor Shaws performance against LSU, which ended a string of four games in which the junior played at an elite level. South Carolina is seventh in the SEC in passing offense (217.9 yards per game), and Spurrier wants Shaw to spend more time in the pocket trying to find receivers rather than scrambling. Ellington and Sanders share the team lead in receptions with 17 each.
Im sure he knows we can make the play, Sanders said. I never played quarterback on the college level. I dont know what he sees back there. All we can do is go back and tell him, Hey, give us a chance.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is one spot behind Shaw in passing yards in the SEC (Shaw is 10th and Driskel is 11th), but both quarterbacks can make plays with their feet. Driskel will be the most dangerous rushing quarterback the Gamecocks have faced all year, meaning they will have to be constantly aware of who has the ball in the Florida backfield. Driskel averages 54.3 yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry. Driskel rushed for 177 yards last week against Vanderbilt and scored three touchdowns. One of those scores was a 70-yard run.
Head to head
South Carolina linebacker Shaq Wilson vs. Florida running back Mike Gillislee
Spurrier said this week that Wilson, his 5-11, 224-pound senior, is playing at an All-SEC and maybe an All-America level. Wilson may have to maintain that level Saturday to give South Carolinas defense a chance to bounce back from a disappointing effort against LSU. The Tigers running game and the Gators running game, led by 5-11, 209-pound senior Gillislee, are very similar, Wilson said. They do a lot of the same things. They get a lot of big personnel in there. At times, they bring six o-linemen in the game or seven. They definitely want to run the ball and keep things going with the run game so if we can get the run stopped and make them one-dimensional, well be good. Wilson had 14 tackles against the Tigers and leads the Gamecocks with 44 this sesason.