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Spurrier has done a remarkable job in his first season in Columbia and has shown why he is one of college football's all-time best. However, he has not done it with the cock n' fire offense but instead with an opportunistic approach. It is led by a bend but don't break defense and a maturing quarterback calling the shots for the offense.
The task for Coach Urban Meyer at Florida is to elevate the Florida program to the level that Spurrier had it for 12 years. It is ironic that in this 7-2 season in which he has begun a dramatic transformation of the Gator program from the previous three years to one that fits his style and personality, it is South Carolina and the Old Ball Coach offering the final SEC hurdle. A win over Florida's most famous ball coach ever could send the Gators packing for Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game and that would truly put the Meyer stamp on a program where the Spurrier shadow still lurks four years since he coached his last game at UF.
South Carolina is running a lot of the same ball plays that Spurrier made famous at Florida. There is the curl route, the draw play and of course the "Mills route," named after Gator great Ernie Mills. Spurrier has not lost his touch on calling plays and when to go for the jugular. Ask Tennessee and Arkansas if they think Spurrier still knows when to chuck it deep. South Carolina has not been an explosive or dominating offense but it has generated quite a few big plays. The Gamecock passing game has something the Gators sorely miss and that is a downfield passing game.
You can expect some trickeration from Spurrier who most certainly run Emory and Henry this week. I also expect one of Spurrier's famous trick plays this week. He will surely run a reverse pass with the receiver or the old halfback pass in a running situation. The one thing you can put down is the fact that Spurrier will be ready and unload all the bullets in his gun. The million dollar question is does he have big enough checkers to knock off the Gators?
OFFENSE IMPROVING: Florida's much maligned offense has seemed to find an identity the last two weeks. Florida has been able to establish a running game behind Deshawn Wynn and freshman Marcus Manson. Throw a determined Chris Leak into the mix and UF looks as good running the football the last two games as any stretch this season.
Florida's offensive line is healthy and the unit has been the same for three straight games. The new philosophy of run blocking has played into the line's strength and helped with the passing game. The throw game has also benefited from the fact the Florida now has a tight end in the game as well as a fullback. Teams have to respect the run and the protection scheme. Conversely, Florida has become a quick passing team and the Gators have even put the play action into the short passing game. It appears the UF is taking the approach that getting the ball into players hands quick will protect the quarterback and aid the running game. Florida will see some more of the zone coverage they saw from Vandy this week against South Carolina. I
In seven games this season Leak has not thrown an interception and in those games UF is 6-1. Leak has not thrown an interception since the Mississippi State game. Look for UF to continue to avoid turnovers and pound the rock against South Carolina.
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS: Defensively, it was back to the drawing board this week for UF. They got "schemed up" pretty well by Vandy last week. Losing Vernell Brown was a key in the man to man scheme. I think the Gators will mix up coverages this week with an emphasis of taking away the inside routes. This will force the Gamecocks to throw more fade routes which they are pretty good at under Steve Spurrier.
Florida's defensive line is banged up and must do a better job of getting a push up the middle this week. Marcus Thomas and Ray McDonald don't appear to be close to 100% so expect Joe Cohen and Stephen Harris to play a bunch at defensive tackle. Blake Mitchell is not as mobile as Jay Cutler so UF should be able to get some sacks this week if they can get to him before he can set his feet to throw the ball. Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison expect to see a lot of three-wide formation this week so they will counter with Reggie Nelson at nickel back and Kyle Jackson at free safety. I really like this move as opposed to putting Nelson out wide at corner. Having Reggie inside means he can become a blitzer in certain packages and he is so physical that if South Carolina runs the draw play he can get the running back down. Reggie Lewis and Avery Atkins will play the corner spot and I think the late interception will help give Lewis the confidence to play well.
WHAT WE KNOW: Florida is 7-2 with a chance to get to the SEC title game ... Chris Leak has taken care of the football very well this season and has taken his game up a notch with the new offense ... Florida is still looking for some big plays in its offense … UF has 11 runs of over 20 yards but two are on fake punts and three are from backup quarterback Josh Portis. The running backs have only produced six big runs in eight games … The Achilles Heel of the next two opponents is big plays and look for the Gators to finally break out and get some on the ground.
In the passing game UF has 24 pass plays over 20 yards but seven are from Dallas Baker who may not play this week and two are from Bubba Caldwell who is out for the season. In a close game with the running game working Leak should be able to take a shot down the field ... Florida's defense is +17 in the turnover margin which is the second best in school history. UF must overcome there first signs of adversity with the injuries to get back to the top ten defense we have seen all season ... The health of Marcus Thomas is the most important key to the Gator defense and early indications are that if he plays much it will be with some pain in his lower back ... Special teams are still very solid with Eric Wilbur continuing to pin teams back and the coverage units remaining solid. It looks like Chad Jackson will return punts which is good and bad. He can certainly take it to the house but you hope you don't incur another injury to a starter in the return game.
KEY GAMECOCKS: Blake Mitchell is 6-2 as a starter and leads the SEC with 15 touchdown passes ... Sidney Rice is a big time freshman receiver who has eight touchdown catches in the last four games ... Kenny McKinley is another receiving threat who caught the game winning touchdown last week ... Mike Davis is a freshman running back who has learned how to run the patented Spurrier draw play ... Ko Simpson leads the defense with 81 tackles and plays all over the field ... Dustin Lindsey and Ricardo Hurley are two solid linebackers with Lindsey now starting ... Johnathen Joseph is tied for the lead in the SEC with three interceptions from his corner spot.
South Carolina's three losses have been to Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. Those three teams are a combined 23-3 ... Spurrier has outcoached his last four opponents with half time adjustments. The Gamecocks come into the game having won the second half on the scoreboard in each of the last four games ... Under Spurrier South Carolina is 4-1 in games decided by 10 points or less … When Steve Spurrier gets to the red zone he has scored touchdowns with 18 in 26 opportunities.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT: Spurrier has done it by being opportunistic on defense and timely scoring on offense. The bend but don't break defense plays right into the Gators hands offensively. There is not indication that UF will implode and all of sudden turn the ball over numerous times. UF does a great job protecting the ball and it would take a big turnover day for USC to win.
For the Gamecocks to beat Tennessee they needed the Vols to fumble into the end zone. To beat Arkansas they needed a penalty to call back a defensive touchdown for the Hogs and the Gamecocks scored a defensive touchdown against Georgia to stay in that game. The Gators have not allowed a team to score a defensive touchdown and other than Alabama UF has been very good on its own half of the field.
I see UF grinding out a 28-17 game that is close for a half or so. Chris Leak will be the difference and the defense will play better than it did last week versus Vandy.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Florida is seventh in total offense in the SEC but the Gators are third in scoring offense and top 50 nationally … UF is second in the SEC in time of possession while the Gamecocks are tenth … Florida is now fourth in the SEC in total defense and tenth in the country ... South Carolina comes into the game with the second best pass defense in the SEC … Eric Wilbur has hit a 50 yard plus punt in six games this season.
The Gators have intercepted a pass in 15 of the last 21 games ... UF is only sixth in the league on third down conversions but did improve last week ... Teams have only entered the red zone against the Gator defense 24 times this season ... Florida is averaging 3:11 per touchdown drive this season … Vanderbilt ran the most plays against the Gator defense this season with 67 including overtime. The Gators also ran a season high 83 plays in the game ... The Gators would like to get better on third and two to three yards. They are just 10 for 20 on the season when having those two obtainable distances.
SPURRIER-ISMS: Things you may or may not know about my old ball coach ... He always carries a Sharpie autograph pen ... He does not like to shake hands (except after games) because it spreads germs. He prefers the fist pat ... He believes in stomping on your spit after your do it in the grass … You should always wash the sweat stains out of your visor. (He thinks the dishwasher is a good technique) … You cannot wear a hat indoors.
When playing in a scramble golf tournament it is okay to not wear your golf shoes. Tennis shoes are a good choice for scramble events ... He does not like fans to hug him or put their arm on him for pictures ... He started some traditions at UF like naming The Swamp, adding a grass field and taking a team picture wherever Gator teams clinched a title ... He is very proud of his Sports Illustrated cover in which he was the quarterback on the worst team in NFL history, the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976 ... He likes to wear visors and sweater vests ... Finally you must count them all on the golf course and putt them all the way out to the hole.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Gators have not had a touchdown pass thrown by a wide receiver or running back since 1999 at the SEC Championship game. Earnest Graham did it 77 games ago under the Old Ball Coach. Point of the statistic --- Expect the unexpected this week in Columbia.