In a huge showdown that will have lasting ramifications on the SEC Eastern Division, the South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Gainesville to take on the undefeated Florida Gators on Saturday afternoon.
It was a tale of two weeks for the Gamecocks, who were coming off the highest of highs after dominating Georgia at the start of the month only to see their usually-stout defense give up 254 rushing yards to LSU last week.
Florida is having a remarkable season under second-year head coach Will Muschamp. All that talent we kept hearing about in recruiting has come to play this year. The defense has been fast and attacking, with a running game to provide just enough offense to back it up.
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL
When: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Florida (-3.5) and Over/Under 44
Playing at home and being undefeated, Florida deserves to be favored in this game. Steve Spurrier will want to do well against his former team, but right now the Gators look more complete than the Gamecocks.
That being said, the 44-point over/under seems awfully generous considering how good these defenses are and how mediocre the offenses tend to be.
South Carolina averages a respectable 34.1 points per game, though a lot of that comes from beating up on teams like East Carolina, UAB and Kentucky.
Florida is putting up less than 28 points per game, albeit against a tougher early-season schedule that included a matchup with LSU and Texas A&M.
Combined these two defenses give up a total of 24.6 points per game. Those 44 points will be hard to come by on either side.
South Carolina Injury Report (via USA Today)
Probable: RB Marcus Lattimore (Hip)
Questionable: DT Kelcy Quarles (Shoulder); DT J.T. Surratt (Ankle); T Mike Matulis (Shoulder)
Out: RB Brandon Wilds (Ankle); RB Shon Carson (Wrist)
Florida Injury Report (via USA Today)
Probable: OL Jonotthan Harrison (Arm); OL Xavier Nixon (Upper Body); LB Jelani Jenkins (Hamstring)
Questionable: WR Latroy Pittman (Ankle)
Out: LS Drew Farris (Collarbone); OL Matt Patchan (Pectoral); WR Michael McNeely (Foot); DE Ronald Powell (Knee)
This could be the biggest game of the year, at least up to this point, as far as determining a team's fate.
Florida leads the SEC East with a 5-0 conference record. South Carolina is right behind the Gators with a 4-1 mark. The winner of this game will be sitting in the driver's seat for a game in Atlanta against, presumably, the winner of the LSU-Alabama showdown next month.
Unless the winner of this game completely falls apart down the stretch, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that even if they were to lose the SEC Championship Game they would still play in a BCS game.
Keys to South Carolina Win
Consistency on offense; Create pressure with defensive line
South Carolina doesn't have a dominant presence on the offensive side of the ball. Marcus Lattimore is the best player, but even he has scuffled with just three 100-yard games on the season and his lowest yards per carry average (4.5).
Getting a balance on offense, with Lattimore leading the charge and the always-questionable Connor Shaw not turning the ball over, will at least allow them to dictate the pace of the game.
Defensively, the Gamecocks are led by a stout front four that can get after anyone. If they are able to find Jeff Driskel a lot in this game they should have no problems holding the Gators at bay.
Keys to Florida Win
Big plays down the field; Force Shaw to beat you
The Gators aren't trying to be sexy with the ball. They want to pound it down your throat until you have nothing left. Since South Carolina has such a good defensive line, they might be wise to try play-action passing a few times to take chances down the field.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel rarely gets a chance to show off his arm, so this could be a good time to try something different to put up points against one of the best defenses in the country.
Given Shaw's propensity to throw the ball to the other team, the Gators would be wise to load up the box to stop the run and for the South Carolina quarterback to make plays. Until he proves he can do it, there is no reason to let Lattimore get 25-30 carries.
This is going to be an old school battle between two ridiculously physical teams trying to fight and claw for every yard. Ultimately, though, I think Florida's flaws are not quite as severe as South Carolina's. Plus, the home-field advantage will count for something.
Florida 17, South Carolina 13