What To Watch For: Florida

GamecockAnthem takes a weekly look at a few things to watch for in the upcoming game. This week's edition focuses on the third straight top 10 ranked opponent in the Florida Gators.

The Gamecocks hit the road for the second straight weekend to face off against another top 10 opponent. This time, South Carolina travels to Gainesville to face the always dangerous Florida Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

This will be the 33rd matchup between these two teams with Florida holding the series edge 23-6-3, including a 12-1 advantage in Gainesville. The Gamecocks are riding a two-game winning streak against the Gators including a 36-14 win in Gainesville in 2010 that clinched the SEC East title for the Gamecocks. South Carolina has never defeated Florida three times in a row in series history.

This is the fifth time in the series that both team has been ranked heading into this matchup. The higher-ranked team has won each of the previous four times, with Florida holding the 3-1 edge over South Carolina. The one Carolina victory was back in 2010.

South Carolina is heading into this game with some injury concerns, including star running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is expected to play but will not start according to Steve Spurrier on Thursday night. The Gamecocks were also hit with the flu bug and are recovering from that. Will this give the Gators an edge? How does the South Carolina defense recover with the missing Kelcy Quarles at defensive tackle?

Big questions for the Gamecocks heading into the weekend. With that in mind, let's take a look at this week's What To Watch For.

Who does USC turn to if Marcus Lattimore is unable to play or is inefficient?

Coach Steve Spurrier told the media on Wednesday night that his star running back, Marcus Lattimore, may be unable to play this weekend against Florida. Lattimore is suffering from a bruised hip that he obtained during the LSU game. He sat out Wednesday night's practice and Spurrier then came out on Thursday evening during his radio show and said Lattimore will not start the game, but will likely play on Saturday.

Obviously any Marcus Lattimore is better than no Marcus Lattimore, but if the Gamecocks are unable to play the junior this weekend, they'll turn to two players – Kenny Miles and Mike Davis. Miles is a fifth-year senior who's been with the program for awhile now. He's got the talent and leadership to fill in nicely for the Gamecocks. He performed well in last year's games against Clemson and Nebraska so he's capable of stepping in when called upon. He doesn't bring the same size and power that Lattimore has but is likely a quicker runner who has just enough speed to be dangerous for South Carolina.

Freshman Mike Davis likely brings more talent to the position than Miles does but doesn't have nearly the experience right now. That's not to say that Mike Davis can't get the job done as a true freshman. Look at what Brandon Wilds did last year in relief. Davis has the frame to handle the pounding of an SEC defense at 5-foot-9, 216-pounds. Along with his power running style, there's also a nice burst of speed that you have to account for. Currently, Davis has 13 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown in mop-up duty for the Gamecocks.

Even if Lattimore is able to play, it's unsure how effective he can be right now since he's in the "wait-and-see" mode for South Carolina. This just means it's even more important for Miles and Davis to prepare like they are the number one option for the Gamecocks this weekend.

South Carolina was able to beat Florida last year without Lattimore. Can they do it again if they have to?

Can the Gamecocks slow down the strong running game of the Florida Gators?

South Carolina was regarded as one of the best teams in the country when it comes to run defense.

That was before the LSU game.

The Tigers ran for a total of 258 yards on South Carolina's talented defensive line and basically had their way with the Gamecocks at the line of scrimmage. It was a definite surprise considering the injury woes for the Tigers on the offensive line, but I guess that's why they were the number one team in preseason.

South Carolina faces another strong running team in the Gators this weekend. Florida enters this game with a talented running duo of running back Mike Gillislee and quarterback Jeff Driskell. Gillislee has rushed for 615 yards on 120 attempts and scored seven touchdowns so far this year. He's averaged just over 100 yards per game at 102.5. Driskell has really stepped up at quarterback this year and showcased his running ability becoming the Gators second leading rusher this year. He's currently sitting at 326 yards rushing on 57 attempts with four rushing touchdowns. He stepped up big against Vanderbilt last weekend with 177 yards and three touchdowns. The 177 yards set a school rushing record by a Gator quarterback, eclipsing the 166 yards by Tim Tebow in 2007.

The Gators run the zone read option in there offense and Driskell executes it extremely well. He's got enough speed to break off the long run, showcasing that just last week with a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Gators over Vanderbilt.

The Gamecocks are lucky in the aspect that the South Carolina runs zone read as well so they've had the opportunity to practice against this type of offense. The Gamecocks will need to contain and hold their ground on the quarterback fakes from Driskell that could force a South Carolina defender to bit towards a running back. Gillislee is a hard runner, and with the Gamecocks hurting in the interior portion of the defensive line, could gain some yardage up the middle. It will be crucial for backups Phillip Dukes and Gerald Dixon Jr. to step in if Byron Jerideau and J.T. Surratt are limited on Saturday.

It will be tough to contain this Florida running game but it will be the key to holding this offense in check. Driskell isn't the greatest passer in the SEC so South Carolina needs to force Florida out of its comfort zone in order to gain a competitive edge on the Gators.

The Gamecocks were able to shut down the potent running game against Georgia only to see LSU power their way to big numbers. What we see this weekend from the Gamecocks against Florida's run game will likely determine what the outcome of this game will be.

The opportunity for Connor Shaw in the passing game

While the running game could be key for the Gamecocks, Connor Shaw and the passing game could help open up the South Carolina offense this weekend. Florida's secondary could find themselves in man coverage on USC's speedy receivers and could afford some one-on-one opportunities for Shaw to throw the ball downfield.

This strategy could be contingent upon how well the Gamecocks are able to move the ball on the ground. If Florida can hold the Gamecocks rushing game to a minimum without stacking the box with eight defenders or more, there will likely be very little passing room for South Carolina. They'll be able to cover the intermediate passing routes for the Gamecocks and shut down the opportunity for the big play. However, if the Gamecocks are able to create some solid yards on the ground causing the Gators to focus more on the run, they could utilize the play-action pass and hit speedsters Damiere Byrd, Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders for big gains down field.


South Carolina and Florida will be televised on CBS this Saturday starting at 3:30. The game will be called by Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the analysis. Tracy Wolfson will on the sideline.

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