2011 Florida Gators Football: 10 Players Who Could Impact UF-South Carolina

John PattonContributor INovember 8, 2011

2011 Florida Gators Football: 10 Players Who Could Impact UF-South Carolina

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    There will be a lot on the line this coming Saturday afternoon when Florida visits South Carolina.

    The Gamecocks need a win (and a loss by Georgia to either Auburn or Kentucky—OK, let's just go with Auburn) to stay in contention to win the Southeastern Conference East Division.

    Coming off a much-needed 26-21 victory against tougher-than-usual Vanderbilt, the Gators are hoping to play their way into a bowl game.

    Without question, any of a number of players could dictate how this one goes. Here is a look at 10, five from each team.

Melvin Ingram

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    The most productive member of the nation's best (yes, I said it, best) defensive line, Ingram has been a force all season long.

    One of three potential first- or second-round picks on the Gamecocks front (the other two are ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney), Ingram is college football's fifth-best NFL draft-eligible defensive line prospect, according to ESPN/Scouts Inc. analyst Todd McShay.

    In nine games this year, Ingram has 34 tackles, a team-high 9.5 of which have accounted for a loss of 50 yards by the opposition. Included in that total is a Gamecocks-best 5.5 sacks (totalling 36 yards of losses).

    But get this: The former prep tailback now wrapped in a 275-pound package has two interceptions to go along with four passes defensed and two more broken up. Ingram also has four quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and a key onside kick recovery against Georgia to seal the win in one of the best games of the season.

Jordan Reed

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    Jordan Reed came to Florida as a quarterback looking to lead Urban Meyer's spread offense.

    Through the years, he has thrown his share of passes, but lately, Reed has shown he might have an NFL future at tight end.

    Despite having played in just seven games this season, Reed is second on the Gators with 19 catches (for 189 yards). Only Chris Rainey, who has played in eight games and has 20 receptions for 305 yards, and Andre Debose, who has 272 receiving yards (on 12 catches) in eight contests, rank ahead of the Connecticut product in either category.

    Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who knows a bit about the NFL, has raved in recent weeks about Reed's growth and potential, as said during recent TV game broadcasts.

Antonio Allen

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    John Brantley's prep teammate at Ocala Trinity Catholic, safety Antonio Allen is the leading tackler for what ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit ranks as the nation's fourth-best defense.

    Through nine games, Allen has 62 tackles, 6.5 of which are for a loss of 21 yards. He also is tied with C.C Whitlock and Stephon Gilmore for the team lead in interceptions with three and is tops on the Gamecocks with three fumble recoveries.

    Also a decent basketball player while in high school, Allen has four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, two touchdowns, two quarterback hurries and has broken up a pass in 2011.

    No doubt Alabama and LSU have top-notch defensive backs, but it will be difficult to keep Allen off the the All-SEC team at the end of the year.

Jaye Howard

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    Simply put, save for possibly kicker Caleb Sturgis, no Gator is more worthy of All-SEC honors than Jaye Howard.

    Much more than just a run-stuffer, the senior is tied for third on the team in tackles with 46. That's a defensive tackle we're talking about.

    Included in that total are 4.5 tackles measuring a loss of 35 yards. And 2.5 of those are sacks accounting for 28 lost yards for the opposition.

    Howard also has recorded three quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.

    For his career, Howard has current team bests in tackles-for-loss (20) and sacks (eight) in addition to his 112 tackles.

    More and more each week, Howard looks the part of an athlete who will be starting on Sundays and Mondays in the future.

Alshon Jeffery

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    Depending on who is doing the scouting, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery or Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is college football's best NFL prospect at wide receiver.

    Big (he's 6'4", 229 pounds) and talented, Jeffery has the build of a small tight end, the speed of a wideout and the leaping ability of a dunk-happy NBA shooting guard.

    Through nine games, it's probably very fair to say Jeffery has been underutilized.

    The junior has a team-high 36 receptions for 487 yards (13.5 ypc) and five touchdowns. That means he's accruing just four catches for an average of 54.1 yards-a-game.

    In fairness, the Gamecocks have swapped quarterbacks (going from now-departed Stephen Garcia to Connor Shaw), and sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore (1,000 all-purpose yards, 11 touchdowns) was looking like a Heisman Trophy candidate before going down with a season-ending ACL tear in the seventh game.

    Florida's secondary is young and inexperienced, and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews caught 170 yards worth of passes, including a pair of touchdowns, against it last Saturday afternoon in The Swamp.

    Matthews is very good and has a bright future, but Jeffery is a special player who could pose serious problems for UF.

Xavier Nixon

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    Someone is going to have to block the Gamecocks ultra-talented pass rushers, and that duty will fall on Xavier Nixon and his fellow offensive linemen.

    After a difficult game against Georgia that saw UF surrender six sacks (four to outside linebacker Jarvis Jones), 30 percent of UGa's season total, the Gators bounced back against Vanderbilt, giving up just one sack.

    Look for South Carolina to try and get after Florida quarterback John Brantley. It will be up to Nixon and his linemates to make sure the Gamecocks don't succeed.

Stephon Gilmore

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    In a league full of talented cover cornerbacks, Gilmore might be the best.

    Through nine games, he has recorded 37 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, despite being avoided much of the time by opposing offenses. His 10 passes defensed and seven pass breakups easily lead the Gamecocks, and he also recovered a fumble and took it 56 yards earlier this season.

    A special teams standout in addition to being a lockdown corner, Gilmore has been used as a kick and punt returner, and he also has blocked a field goal attempt in 2011.

Caleb Sturgis

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    Making a serious run at All-SEC and possible All-American consideration is Florida's kicker, Caleb Sturgis. Primarily because of him, the Gators rank first nationally in kicking.

    The senior from St. Augustine missed all of one game (Georgia) and most of another (Auburn) with injuries, but has been remarkably effective when in the lineup.

    In addition to being successful on all 21 of his extra-point attempts in 2011, Sturgis is 17-of-19 on field goals with a long of 55 coming in last weekend's victory against Vanderbilt.

    If the game is close and comes down to a big kick, UF has to be confident with Sturgis on its side.

Bruce Ellington

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    One of the Southeastern Conference's best athletes (he also is South Carolina's starting point guard), Bruce Ellington has been a major contributor in his first season in a college football uniform.

    A receiver/return man, Ellington has 486 all-purpose yards through nine games. That's just one yard less than teammate Alshon Jeffery, who is perhaps the nation's best wideout.

    Ellington has gotten his numbers in a variety of ways. He has 244 on kickoff returns, 140 receiving and 102 rushing. Surprisingly, all of that work has resulted in just one touchdown, and that came after a handoff.

    Look for him to be a factor in a variety of ways on Saturday.

Matt Elam

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    A sophomore safety whose brother, Abram, plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Matt Elam ranks second on the Gators this season with 53 tackles.

    His 6.5 tackles-for-loss fall in just behind defensive lineman Dominique Easley and linebacker/defensive end Lerentee McCray (each with seven) for the team lead.

    Elam has recorded a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble, and he leads Florida with two interceptions. Additionally, his five pass breakups are tied with linebacker Jelani Jenkins for tops on the squad.

    South Carolina has the weapons to move downfield in chunks. Elam will play a key role in attempting to stop that.