Florida vs. South Carolina: Stars to Watch for Both Teams in SEC Clash

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2013

Nov 2, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) stands on the sidelines during a timeout against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks defeated the Bulldogs 34-16.  Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators are unranked and in the midst of a five-game losing streak heading into Saturday's SEC showdown with BCS No. 10 South Carolina.

A slew of injuries has stymied any chances Florida had to be competitive in what is reputed to be the nation's best conference. It will take a stellar effort from the Gators' defense, competent quarterback play and an improved running game to pull off the upset in Columbia.

Head coach Will Muschamp succinctly summarized the state of the Gators earlier in the week, per the AP's Mark Long:

An early-season loss to Georgia and even a letdown on the road against Tennessee haven't slowed the Gamecocks much, as they are still in the hunt in the SEC East division.

Let's take a look at some of the stars that should have a huge impact on the outcome of this contest in Williams-Brice Stadium.


Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 14:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There isn't a much better way to start than with one of the most talented defenders to grace college football in recent memory.

Clowney has faced his fair share of criticism for perhaps not playing to his immense potential ahead of a likely venture into the 2014 NFL Draft as a top-flight prospect. The junior has only two sacks, compared to the 13.5 he racked up a season ago.

Nevertheless, he's still commanded double-teams thanks to his freakish 6'6", 274-pound frame that is accompanied with incredible athleticism.

Whether it's Tyler Murphy—who is a game-time decision—or Skyler Mornhinweg under center for the Gators, this is the type of game in whcih Clowney can break out.

Running back Mack Brown isn't giving Florida much to complement its passing game, so look for Clowney to have a huge impact against both dimensions of the opposing offense.


Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

Nov 9, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (1) works out prior to the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The superb freshman will likely be charged with locking down the Gamecocks' most explosive receiver in Damiere Byrd, who averages over 19 yards per catch.

Hargreaves could also line up frequently against Bruce Ellington, who leads South Carolina with five touchdown receptions. Either way, the Florida corner figures to come out on top.

What's encouraging, too, is that Hargreaves—who was named to CBSSports.com's midseason All-American team—has demonstrated a willingness to hit, as he racked up nine total tackles in the 23-20 loss to Georgia.

That will be critical in facing South Carolina's balanced offense, which averages 255.7 yards through the air and just over 200 on the ground.

Having a defensive-minded head coach in Muschamp will help in game-planning for the formidable Gamecocks attack, but the Gators have to be ready for anything. That's especially so, since their sputtering offense isn't likely to help the cause.

Every time out, it seems Hargreaves is growing as a player. This is another learning experience that can continue his rapid development against a quality opponent.


Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 02:  Mike Davis #28 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As the focal point of the Gamecocks' offense, Davis has not disappointed in running for over 100 yards in all but two games this season.

That's helped him eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, but the sophomore also has 29 receptions for 326 yards, good enough to rank second and third on the team in those respective categories.

This is the toughest test Davis has faced all season, though, because Florida ranks in the top five nationally in total defense and yields an average of just 3.62 yards per carry, per NCAA.com.

However, the 5'9", 215-pound runner has found success against SEC foes in 2013:

Davis—who has 10 touchdowns already—will be ready to get physical in finding his way back to pay dirt, since he's not scored a touchdown in either of South Carolina's previous two games.


Michael Taylor, LB, Florida

Muschamp will be counting on Taylor (51) heavily on Saturday.
Muschamp will be counting on Taylor (51) heavily on Saturday.Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

A torn meniscus has ended leading tackler Antonio Morrison's season, which means Taylor will be asked to step up in his fellow linebacker's absence.

Taylor has averaged seven tackles over the past four games and serves as a key cog in the Gators' front seven. With Davis coming at him full-steam and fresh off a bye week, though, he must hold his ground and become the leader in the linebacker corps.

OnlyGators.com documented how the defense will shift in Morrison's absence, with Taylor moving to the middle:

Especially with a freshman in Jarrad Davis now starting on the weak side, it is of optimal importance for Taylor to put the defense in position to succeed at the point of attack.

Otherwise, Davis will be able to run wild and set up Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw to build on his four-touchdown performance in their most recent win over Mississippi State.