Florida changed head coaches recently, with former defensive coordinator Randy Shannon taking over for Jim McElwain, but it didn’t change the on-field results.
The Gators went to Columbia, Missouri, last Saturday and promptly got drilled 45-16 by the Tigers. Once again, Florida couldn’t get anything going on offense, managing just one touchdown and finishing with 93 rushing yards on 31 carries (3.0 ypc). Unless the canceled game with FCS opponent Northern Colorado is rescheduled, the Gators (3-5, 3-4 SEC) will have to win out to get to the required six wins to become bowl eligible. The first step towards that comes on the road against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3) are already bowl eligible and coming off of a 24-10 loss in Athens to No. 1 Georgia. South Carolina also had trouble getting much of anything going on offense, but the Bulldogs’ No. 4-ranked defense had a lot to do with that.
Florida leads the all-time series over South Carolina 26-8-3 and beaten the Gamecocks each of the past two seasons.
Florida at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: South Carolina -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Malik Zaire
In his first start of the season, Zaire didn’t improve the Gators’ offense much. Zaire finished 13-of-19 for 158 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in last week’s blowout loss to Missouri, not exactly distancing himself from the guy he replaced, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.
Florida is last in the SEC and 113th nationally in scoring at 20.6 points per game. The Gators haven’t scored more than 17 in a single game since beating Vanderbilt 38-24 on Sept. 30.
Interim head coach Randy Shannon was succinct in summing up his struggling offense. “We just have to get in the red zone and score points,” he said. “We have to score touchdowns.”
South Carolina’s defense ranks in the middle of the FBS when it comes to yards allowed per game (388.7, 60th) so there should be some opportunities for Zaire and Florida’s offense to move the ball.
2. South Carolina defense
Although the Gamecocks lost last week to Georgia, the defense did a decent job against the Bulldogs’ dynamic duo at running back. South Carolina held Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to 193 combined rushing yards and just one touchdown on 36 carries (5.1 ypc). While that may not seem all that great, consider that for the season Georgia is averaging nearly 280 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry.
“We played pretty good,” Gamecocks linebacker T.J. Brunson said earlier this week. “It came down to a few plays, maybe four or five plays that made the difference in the game. Overall, I think we have some improving to do, but I’m pretty proud of the effort we had.”
Next up for South Carolina is a Florida team that is struggling to score points (14 ppg over the last four) and has been nowhere near as productive as Georgia when it comes to running the football. The Gators are 10th in the SEC and 68th nationally with 161.1 rushing yards per game.
Despite the recent struggles, Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp isn’t taking Florida lightly.
“I told our football team I wouldn’t be sold on what you saw [from Florida] against Georgia and Missouri,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to see a highly-motivated football team coming in here. We need to prepare well, we need to play well on Saturday to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game.”
3. Florida defense
The Gators’ defense has been the strength in recent years, a big reason why Florida won back-to-back SEC East championships under in Jim McElwain’s first two seasons. But that has not been the case this season, as evidenced by the 45 points scored by Missouri last week.
The Gators enter this game ranked 47th in the nation in total defense at 372.1 yards per game allowed. Tigers quarterback Drew Lock threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns alone last week against Florida.
South Carolina’s offense isn’t near as explosive as Missouri’s, but Florida’s offense still needs to find a way to move the ball and extend drives. Too many three-and-outs will put more pressure on the defense as the Gators are looking to snap their four-game losing streak.
The season is definitely on the line for Florida if the Gators have any hope of going to a bowl game. The schedule game against FCS opponent Northern Colorado that was canceled earlier this season because of Hurricane Irma looms large as Florida is 3-5 with just three more games remaining. The Gators will have to win out against South Carolina, UAB and Florida State to get to six wins and become bowl eligible.
Although that’s not a daunting slate, especially given the Seminoles’ own issues this season, it’s still tough seeing this Florida team putting three wins in a row together after last week’s 45-16 blowout loss to Missouri. The Tigers entered that game with just three wins and none in SEC play.
Look for South Carolina to try and establish the run early with A.J. Turner (above, right). That will take pressure off of quarterback Jake Bentley, who also is capable of making plays with his legs.
While the game could be close at halftime, the Gamecocks should pull away in the second half.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Florida 16
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.