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South Carolina Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Florida

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South Carolina Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Florida
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There aren't many more ways to hype Saturday's game between South Carolina and Florida other than saying it's a game with everything at stake for the Gamecocks.

A win and they are most likely on their way to play for the SEC Championship and, who knows, maybe more come January. A loss, and well, maybe a return trip to that Chic fil-A Bowl and a lot of disappointment in Columbia.

That being said, here are five keys to victory for the Gamecocks in their third game in a row against a top 10 opponent in the Florida Gators.

 

1. Connor Shaw Needs To Make Better Decisions

This is a two-way street for Shaw. As a passer, the junior quarterback for South Carolina had extremely happy feet against LSU and wanted to pull down and run with the ball more times than stay in the pocket to make a throw.

Although an effective runner throughout the season, Shaw was anything but against the Tigers and accounted for -1 yards last Saturday. And the woes last week were also attributed to the offensive line's inability to keep LSU at bay at times, as the Tigers accounted for four sacks in their 23-21 victory.

Against Florida, Shaw has to be able to let the play develop and take his shots downfield when necessary. Although not the strongest deep-ball passer, Shaw still has remarkable accuracy in the short-to-mid-range passing game, and that has been a key to the Gamecocks winning all year.

The other half to this key to victory is Shaw trusting the play called and not immediately trying to audible at the line of scrimmage. He tried many times against LSU to check down to a running play if he read blitz, but the Tigers were ready and had an answer for the audibles all night.

The Swamp can be as tough an environment to play in as Death Valley, and Shaw's composure in the pocket and at the line of scrimmage will be paramount in the Gamecocks walking out with a win.

 

2. South Carolina Needs to Run For More Than 34 Yards

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

And I'm not talking 35 here...

More like the 160 they have averaged this season.

The Gamecocks were completely stifled and contained against the Tigers, giving their worst output for rushing yards all season.

It wasn't so much a strike against All-American running back Marcus Lattimore, but, as stated above, an indictment of the offensive line's ability to create openings.

Florida is no slouch in defending the run, as against LSU they held the Tigers to only 42 yards two weeks ago.

The story being generated this week is that Lattimore is suffering from a bruised hip and has been limited in practice from the game against LSU. Coach Steve Spurrier has been coy about Lattimore's status for the game and indicated that Kenny Miles might get the start against Florida on Saturday.

I've said it before that Lattimore is the rock of Gibraltar for South Carolina and is without a doubt the most valuable player on offense. But let's not forget that the Gamecocks had to play for half the season without him last year when Lattimore was sidelined with his knee injury.

Bottom line, for Shaw to be effective in the passing game, South Carolina has to be effective in the running game.

Conversely...

 

3. South Carolina Needs To Stop Mike Gillislee and Florida's Running Attack

When Florida toppled LSU two weeks ago in Gainesville, it was mostly credited to the senior running back's 146 yards on 34 carries; a monster of a game that seemed to unfold more and more in the second half.

If South Carolina's defense against LSU's running attack is any indication, Gillislee might be in for a similar monster game which could doom the Gamecocks.

Against LSU, South Carolina have up 258 yards on the ground, contrary to the 83 yards they had been giving up to opponents before heading into Death Valley.

The reality was the Gamecocks' wily defense known for its "Rabbit" swarm in the pass rush was exposed with star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney over pursuing plays and being manhandled at the line of scrimmage along with the rest of the defense.

Florida doesn't need any help in getting their running game on track as they already average 233 yards a game. The Gamecocks cannot do them any favors by being blown off the line and letting Gillislee and company beat them up field.

The Gators are also very strong in the read option with quarterback Jeff Driskel, who ran for 177 against Vanderbilt last week, giving Florida a secondary weapon in the running game along with Gillislee.

Containing the Gators in the run and forcing Driskel to beat them in the passing game could bode well for South Carolina as the sophomore quarterback has been known to be developing in his passing game while averaging 145 yards through the air and only four touchdowns on the year.

 

4. South Carolina Continues to Defend the Red Zone

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Although from a yardage standpoint LSU dominated South Carolina last week in a game decided by only two points, the margin could have been a whole heck of a lot greater if not for the Gamecocks' ability to bear down inside the 20.

The Tigers had five trips inside the red zone but only came away with one touchdown, forcing LSU to convert three out of four field goals. I said it before in the post-game wrap-up, if South Carolina had not been as tough in the red zone, LSU could have won by 17 or more.

That gets back to the dubious honor of being a "bend but don't break" defense. I've never liked that phrase and certainly it is no way to succeed consistently on the defensive side of the ball.

But it certainly doesn't hurt South Carolina to have that ability to make the critical stop when necessary.

Florida might still break off some big runs and carry some drives deep into Gamecock territory on Saturday, but Clowney and company's resilience and grittiness in the trenches with their backs against the wall might be a critical turning point in getting a win in Gainesville.

Even so, they still need to succeed in keeping Florida from even getting that far to begin with.

 

5. Avoiding Florida's Second-Half Flurry

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One thing the Gators need to be praised for and credited with is their ability to play strong second halves, which has been a big reason they are 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Against Bowling Green, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and LSU, Florida was either trailing or tied at the half and came back to win each time.

On the season, they have actually been outscored in the first quarter by a margin of 27-17. But from the second quarter on, they have been a monster, and by the second half they are pretty much Pantera's Cowboys From Hell, outscoring their opponents 98-23.

Not to mention as well, their vaunted running attack nearly doubles in output in the second half of its games, accounting for 907 yards of its total output on the year. (Source: Spur of the Moment)

What it means is that even though Florida might be a slow starter, they are by no means a slow finisher, and South Carolina has to not only jump on Florida early, but beat them at their own game by dictating the running game and keeping Gillislee contained and better yet off the field with good time management.

But even above x's and o's and keys to victory and all of the usual pre-game nonsense that we diagram week after week, if South Carolina really wants to win this game, they have to come out with the energy they did not have against LSU.

Call it complacency, call it intimidation, call it whatever you like. Regardless, the Gamecocks have to be up tempo and prepared to play out of the mind in every phase of the game with seemingly everything on the line against Florida.

Heck, fly in Al Pacino to give the Any Given Sunday "Peace With Inches" speech. That's the kind of motivation and excitement the Gamecocks need to ride into The Swamp, paint it garnet, and rename it Hell for the Gators.

Whew, who needs a Beam and Coke?

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