The Florida Gators’ 91st-ranked offense finally caught up with them last week against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) was crushed by Arkansas 31-10 as the Gators were held to 229 total yards, including only 12 rushing yards.
This week, the Gators will have their work cut out for them as they will face the South Carolina Gamecocks(5-4, 3-4), who have won three in a row. In those three games, the Gamecocks’ offense has improved, averaging 382 yards per contest over that span. For the season, South Carolina is averaging 330.6 yards per game on offense.
Saturday will be the 37th meeting all-time between the Gamecocks and the Gators. Florida leads the series 25-8-3.
South Carolina at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Florida -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Austin Appleby
Florida starting quarterback Luke Del Rio suffered a shoulder injury against Arkansas and is out indefinitely. His backup, Appleby, handled first-team snaps throughout the week and on Wednesday, Gators head coach Jim McElwain confirmed that he would get the start against South Carolina.
Even before the injury, Del Rio struggled as he threw two touchdowns and six interceptions in the last two games, including a pick-six against Arkansas. McElwain said after the game he considered benching Del Rio but he ultimately did not.
Appleby started two games in place of Del Rio earlier this season. In Florida’s 38-28 loss against the Tennessee Volunteers, he finished 23-for-29 for 296 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Against Vanderbilt, Appleby was 19 of 28 for 141 yards and finished without a touchdown pass or interception.
Appleby couldn’t be much worse than Del Rio has been the last two games, so maybe he can help jumpstart the Gators’ offense.
2. Jake Bentley
It is no coincidence that South Carolina’s winning streak has come with Bentley at quarterback. A true freshman, Bentley has shown poise beyond his tender age of just 18 years old and has really provided a spark to the Gamecocks’ offense.
Last week against Missouri, Bentley completed 22 of 28 passes (79 percent) for 254 yards and two touchdowns. In his three starts, Bentley has thrown for 622 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 73 percent of his passes.
Bentley will face his biggest challenge against a Florida defense that is ranked third in the FBS in yards per game allowed (267.8 ypg). Look for South Carolina to try and un the football with Rico Dowdle to take some pressure off Bentley.
3. Florida’s defense
Florida’s defense has been among the best in the country throughout this season. But without their top two leading tacklers in Jarrad Davis (sprained ankle) and Alex Anzalone (broken arm), the Gators will be extremely young at the linebacker position.
Florida will likely lean on true freshman David Reese and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson in both spots, which could be a concern against the Gamecocks’ running game. Anytime a team starts a group of young linebackers, communication on defense could always be a concern.
This game should be a low-scoring affair as Florida’s offense has been struggling ever since the game against Vanderbilt in early October while South Carolina will be facing a stout Gators defense. Saturday will be Gamecocks true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley’s first road game of his college career and it will be at one of the toughest venues in the conference, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Florida will focus on slowing down South Carolina’s running game, forcing Bentley to try and beat the Gators through the air. As good as the freshman has been, it is hard to expect him to continue his clean play, especially going into such a tough environment. The Gamecocks will keep it close, but Florida should come out with the win and maintain its spot atop the SEC East.
Prediction: Florida 24, South Carolina 20
— 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.
(Jake Bentley photo by Allen Sharpe and Jenny Dilworth, courtesy of www.gamecocksonline.com)