Just three days away from the biggest game in school history, the South Carolina football team practiced for just over two hours at the "Proving Grounds" in a cool evening Wednesday night. Florida brings in a stingy defense that has allowed just 293 yards per game and a league-best 23 turnovers forced with an offense that has put them in difficult situations all year.
The Gator offense has given opponents a short field all season. 11 of the opponent's of 29 scoring drives has been less than 50 yards. Three more have been less than 60 yards. That shows a Gator defense that won't give up many long drives.
"They've got good, young football players," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "A lot of true freshmen are playing a great deal of time for them. It's going to be a challenge just like it is every week."
If there is a weakness on the Gator defense it's rush defense. The Gators are fifth in the conference, giving up 121 yards per game. The Gamecocks will have to have a healthy offensive line if it is to be successful running the football Saturday night, something that it wasn't sure it would have following the Arkansas game.
Center T.J. Johnson injured his left knee in the game and did not return. Left tackle Jarriel King suffered a concussion. While King was still in shorts and not practicing Wednesday, Johnson was in full pads and went through practice like normal.
"I didn't expect him to be out there Tuesday and he came out there and got a lot of reps," Elliott said. "Today he was a little bit better. He's still going to be sore but this is an opportunity he's not going to miss."
Johnson, who had his leg heavily wrapped, says there's no way he'd miss an opportunity to help his team win their first SEC Eastern Division title.
"It was never a question," Johnson said. "I will play in this game."
With Johnson out freshman Ronald Patrick finished the game under center. Though Elliott knows he wasn't ready to play in an SEC contest, he was quite pleased with his performance.
"He did well," Elliot said. "The most important thing was getting the snaps and he was under control - he didn't rush anything - he did well. I was pleased with him."
In a big time game between two evenly matched teams, the game usually comes down to who makes the big play that changes the game. If it is a turnover, chances are it's the Gator secondary making that play. The Gators lead the conference with 17 interceptions and have returned three for touchdowns. It will be very important for Stephen Garcia and the offense to take care of the ball.
"They're very good," receiver coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. said of the Gator secondary. "We watched them play Georgia and Alabama today. They're competitive - they get up on you and grab you and they're not afraid to play. It will be a good match-up."
One advantage the Gamecocks will have over the Gators - much like everyone else they have faced - is height. With Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley, Jason Barnes, and D.L. Moore all being well over 6'0, it could be a huge advantage over a smaller Gator secondary.
"There's pros and cons of being big," Spurrier, Jr. said. "It will help in some instances, but they play well and play physical so you've got to get separation from them and make plays. We hope it's an advantage but time will tell."
Gamecock fullback/tight end Patrick DiMarco will be making his final trip to the "Swamp" - a place he grew up in - in his final regular season SEC game.
"It's always weird going back there and playing," DiMarco said. "I grew up in the "Swamp" and went to three or four games a year so I'm definitely going to have chills walking into the stadium, but that's just going to pump me up even more when the first play comes around"
With the game deciding who will represent the East in the SEC Championship game it will be even bigger for DiMarco.
"It's turned into a one game season," DiMarco said. "What we do here will make or break our season. If we win then all of our goals are out there and we'll be on top of the world."
C.C. Whitlock and Jarriel King did not practice Wednesday, which was expected. If they're not able to practice Thursday, they likely will not play.
Receiver DeAngelo Smith has an injured foot and will miss the rest of the season.
Connor Shaw was at practice with some protection around his ribs. He said the injury was more his fault for letting up than the Arkansas defender.
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