Florida secondary preparing for the deep ball

The inexperienced secondary for the Gators was exposed early in the season but has played much better in the last three games. They’ll see their toughest test of the season on Saturday.

The group of receivers for South Carolina could be deepest group the Gators see this year. No one can match what Amari Cooper did to Florida in Tuscaloosa, and the Kentucky receivers had multiple players with big days.

But the size and speed of multiple South Carolina receivers will challenge Florida in a major way. Pharoh Cooper, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland have been the three best receivers for the Gamecocks, and Cooper leads the way with 786 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones and Roland have combined for 713 yards and eight touchdowns.

Add in the speed of Damiere Byrd, and it’ll be a challenge for a Florida secondary that has been torched at times early in the season.

“They’re talented outside,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “They’ve got guys that can really stretch the field, and they like to stretch the field in their offense. They take shots a bunch down the field and Thompson the quarterback he can make all the throws. It is a big test for sure."

Quarterback Dylan Thompson makes the offense work. He sat behind Connor Shaw, waiting his turn to run the South Carolina offense and has put together a strong senior season. He has thrown for 2,588 yards, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

With the weapons he has around him, it has made the transition to a starting role much easier. The Gamecocks are ranked second in the Southeastern Conference for passing offense with 294.6 passing yards this year.

“They’ve been outstanding this year,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “The best offense we’ve faced in my opinion to date this season. Dylan Thompson’s playing very well, has 22 touchdowns passes, really throwing the ball now. They’re a talented group outside. They’ve got Pharoh Cooper does it all. He lines up and plays Wildcat quarterback, speed sweeps. They run it with him, they throw it to him. He’s a very, very talented football player.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us defensively, we really do.”

The running game is the eighth best in the SEC, averaging 185 yards per game on the ground. Junior Mike Davis, a former commitment to Florida, leads the charge for the Gamecocks with 819 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He’s not the only back that poses a threat. Brandon Wilds (445 yards, three touchdowns), David Williams (168 yards, one touchdown) and Shon Carson (137 yards, two touchdowns) also pose threats for opposing offenses.

“They run the ball extremely well and they throw it extremely well too,” Durkin said. “I think anytime you’re facing a team that’s that balanced, it’s hard to make them one dimensional. You always want to do that when you’re facing an offense and they make that hard to do. They’re very good at what they do.

“They do what they do, they have built-in answers. It’s a system they’ve run there for a while, and they make adjustments very well throughout a game.”

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