Life in the SEC is hard. For the third consecutive week, and twice on the road, ninth-ranked South Carolina will face a top 10 opponent. Following last week's 23-21 loss at LSU, the Gamecocks travel to the Swamp to take on third-ranked Florida, knowing that a loss will virtually eliminate them from a potential SEC East championship.
"Their football team is a little similar to ours in running the ball and playing really good defense and winning in the kicking game," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
The two teams are very similar in nearly all statistical categories. Both offenses average 378.3 yards per game and both defenses allow 12.3 points per game. South Carolina gives up less than a yard less than the Gators, Florida gives up a little over a yard less than Carolina in rushing defense, and Carolina gives up just under two yards less passing per game. The biggest difference in the two teams in rush offense and pass offense. Florida is second in the conference in rushing with 233 yards per game while Carolina is ninth with 160. Carolina is seventh in passing yards with 218 yards per game while Florida is dead last with just 145 passing yards per game.
Muschamp knows that the Carolina offense begins with quarterback Connor Shaw.
"Connor Shaw, their quarterback, is just a winner, makes plays with his legs, does a lot of good things for their football team," Muschamp said. "They run the zone read with him, pocket movement stuff, and the play is never dead with him. He can create so much with his legs and he's a tough hard-nose competitive guy, a guy you enjoy competing against because of the way he plays the game. He's a coach's son, and a really good athlete."
Shaw will test that rush defense that gives up just 107.5 yards per game rushing. The Florida defense saw a quarterback earlier in the season in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel that is similar to Shaw. Manziel rushed for 60 yards and a score against the Gators and threw for 173 yards. In recent weeks the Florida defense has been able to look at its on offense in quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Mike Gillislee. The two have mastered the zone read much like Shaw and Marcus Lattimore has.
"We do a lot of work every day and Jeff is not alive, obviously, but when you're able to simulate somebody like Connor Shaw and understand the way he plays it's easier for our guys, anywhere I've been, to see it live as opposed to showing them film," Muschamp said. "Meaning, when you tell them, for example, Johnny Manziel earlier in the year, the guy is a really good athlete and he can really run and it took us a first half to figure it out. Now they've seen firsthand with Jeff and the similarities between him and Shaw."
Muschamp, who did not get an opportunity to see Lattimore last season, is very impressed with the junior running back that was a preseason Heisman candidate. Lattimore reminds Muschamp a lot of his running back, Gillislee, who is second in the conference in rushing behind A&M's Manziel.
"Very similar, he's a one cut runner, he gets the ball north and south and he pushes the pile and that's the one thing you see with him in the zone read," Muschamp said. "Sometimes there's not much of a hole there, but he finds it and he sticks his face in there and he gets the pile moving. You look up, and you're working 1st and 10, and all of a sudden in the box they say 2nd and 5, he gained 5 yards, then he pops one out of there and he's going to make you tackle him. He's physical, tough, just a really good football player. He's a guy that you like to compete against. He's a guy that's going to go after it and compete and play hard and play fast and play physical. You see no issues with what he had with his injury last year, a guy that's running extremely well in my opinion."
Head coach Steve Spurrier, as all good coaches do, has changed his offensive philosophy to suite the strength of the team. Well known for his Fun-N-Gun offense at Florida, Spurrier now knows he has a running back like Lattimore and a quarterback like Shaw and uses them. Now Spurrier throws just enough to keep the defense honest and open things up for Lattimore and Shaw to run the ball.
"I think that's what good coaches do and that's what makes him the coach he is," Muschamp said. "He's adapted to what maybe he wants to be, to do what it takes to win football games and that's a credit to him. Their two explosive players offensively are Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore, they're two outstanding players. Then off of that, Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders, they have a very good complementary wide-out and they're very good at that position. They've used them in the run game to create extra gaps in the run game with the zone read, to do some of the things to create some issues for the defense for what I call ‘run pass conflicts', and they do a good job of those things."
Defensively, as with most coaches, Muschamp is impressed by the defensive end duo of Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. He is also impressed with Florida native Shaq Wilson, who leads the team with 44 tackles.
"Defensively, Clowney and Taylor are the two ends that you've got to account for or they'll make you have a long day," Muschamp said. "Those guys are really athletic and they can convert speed to power in the rush and they're really good players. Shaq Wilson, from over at First Coast there in Jacksonville, is an instinctive linebacker."
Clowney, who struggled against LSU like most of the defense, is still one of the top players in the conference. Though he did not record a sack against the Tigers, Clowney is still second in the conference with 6.5 sacks on the year.
"Here's a guy that's very instinctive," Muschamp said. "He's got great initial quickness off of the ball, so you're always kind of on your heels a little bit at the tackle position, being able to block him. They move him around, they do some different things with him, and they stand him up and move him inside. You can't always be certain for a matchup and know what you're going to get and be able to chip him and do the different things, because they do a nice job of putting him in some different spots. He's just a really good football player, he plays hard, he plays competitive, he plays with toughness, he's got great length, and he's got great flexibility in his lower body so he can change direction and bend the edge and flip his hips in the rush. He's what you're looking for. You need to account for him, he can ruin your day. You have to be able to account for him in the rush and in the run game."
Quotes via gatorzone.com
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