On Saturday, the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks face yet another tough road test, this time against the No. 2 ranked Florida Gators.
It was pretty evident that the crowd noise from the LSU faithful caused problems on the offensive side of the ball for the Gamecocks, while motivating a struggling Tigers attack to generate over 400 yards of offense.
Gainesville is not Baton Rouge, but it remains one of the most feared venues in all of college football.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier’s return to "The Swamp" is always a special occasion, but this is the highest both teams have been ranked when facing off in Spurrier's eight-year tenure wearing the headset for the Gamecocks.
Both teams’ success depends heavily on defense and the ability to run the ball.
Let’s take a look at some of the more pivotal showdowns we’ll see on Saturday.
All too often in the modern era of college football do we see contests between teams and coaches reduced in the analysis realm to a one-on-one showdown between quarterbacks.
While this does not do justice to the team aspect, it does demonstrate how important the quarterback position has become.
Saturday’s matchup between the Gamecocks and the Gators is no exception.
The similarities between Florida sophomore signal-caller Jeff Driskel and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw are striking.
Shaw has completed one more pass than Driskel on the season, while attempting just three less. This type of disparity is telling as Shaw leads Driskel in almost all relevant passing statistics, albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Both quarterbacks have a similar style of play, relying on their mobility for designed run plays but also when pass protection breaks down.
Driskel has been the more effective runner, averaging more than 50 yards per game.
The main difference between the two this season has been the way they've scored touchdowns. Shaw has produced 10 total touchdowns this year, nine of them through the air.
Driskel has contributed eight scores for the Gators, four with his arm and four with his legs.
Neither has elite receiving talents to pass to so this game could come down to which quarterback protects the football better and is able to create plays outside the pocket—be it through the air or running.
Unfortunately for Gamecock fans, Driskel leads Shaw in both categories (turnovers and rushing).
This matchup of running backs gets more interesting with the news that Marcus Lattimore will be questionable to play Saturday after missing some practice this week with a hip injury.
A limited Lattimore is a big blow for the Gamecocks, who rely on the junior tailback to control the tempo of the game on offense.
Florida’s Mike Gillislee has been a pleasant surprise for Gator fans this season.
After playing sparingly the past couple of seasons behind speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps (both in the NFL), Gillislee has taken advantage of the increased load in carries this year.
He currently has more rushing yards (615) than any other running back in the SEC. Lattimore comes in at No. 4 with 584 yards.
Gillislee, while slightly smaller than Lattimore, is still able to get behind blocks and power through arm tackles.
He has a much more shifty running style and strives to get to the outside whenever he gets the ball, whereas Lattimore is a renowned power back who prefers to take one cut and move the pile.
Lattimore is the more accomplished pass-catcher of the two, reeling in 22 passes this season compared to Gillislee’s four. This could become a big factor as both defenses will be keyed in on stopping the run, making short passes out of the backfield that much more important.
While Lattimore looks to bounce back after a miserable trip to Baton Rouge last week (13 carries, 35 yards), he may find himself ceding carries to redshirt senior Kenny Miles and true freshman Mike Davis if his hip issues persist into Saturday.
Jon Bostic has been a staple in the middle of Florida’s linebacker unit the past two years. Last season he was the leading tackler on the team as a junior.
This season he’s averaging over five tackles a game and is leading the vaunted Gators defense in tackles for a loss, including three sacks.
Shaq Wilson, while smaller than Bostic, has contributed a team-high 44 tackles to go along with a forced fumble and two interceptions.
This is far and away Wilson’s best season as a Gamecock. Similarly to Gillislee, Wilson has had to wait until his senior year to fully showcase his talents after serving as a reserve and dealing with injuries the past two seasons.
Last week, we saw South Carolina’s linebackers struggle taking down the ball carrier once they cleared the line of scrimmage.
This game may well be decided on which linebacker can plug running lanes and orchestrate containment packages against the opposing quarterback more efficiently.