Five Keys to Victory Against Florida
I. Win the Special Teams Battle
The Florida Gators' offense is good enough on its own, but when the Gators' special teams put them in prime position with blocked punts and long punt returns they are nearly unstoppable. The Gators have as much talent on their special teams as any team in the country, and are 12-0 under Urban Meyer when they block a punt. They will undoubtedly come after punter Spencer Lanning early and try to set the tone for the entire game. But this is the type of game special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski was brought to South Carolina for. Rychleski prides himself on having good, fundamental units that don't allow the opposition to get to his punter.
Rychleski's unit will also have its hands full with punt returner Brandon James, who leads the conference with a 19.3 yard average and 2 returns for touchdown. Even if the Gamecocks just hold serve in the special teams battle, it could be considered a mini-victory against a team that has gotten an advantage in so many games this season with special teams play.
II. Move the Chains
The Gamecocks may not be a running football team, but they will need to control the clock in some form Saturday. This will especially be important early, when the tone of the entire contest will be set. An early three and out could spell disaster, but an early drive, even if it doesn't lead to points, would obviously be a positive for the Gamecocks.
The offense has done a decent job of making first downs this year, but that will be as important as ever against the Gators. This means getting upfield in the running game when there is space, and providing the quarterbacks some time to throw or at least throw the ball away to avoid drive-killing sacks. The Gamecocks aren't likely to come out running the football and hoping to win playing conservatively, but they will need to win the time of possession battle to avoid a shootout with one of the nation's most potent offenses.
III. Take Advantage of Opportunities
This applies on many levels. This means scoring touchdowns not field goals in the red zone, hitting the open man when the big play presents itself, and falling on that loose football or grabbing that key interception rather than dropping it. So many times during the Spurrier era USC has been close, but key plays like these examples have been the difference in a program-defining win and yet another moral victory.
Even though the Gamecocks tied their season-high output with 34 points against Arkansas last week, there were still plenty of missed opportunities. The Gamecock quarterbacks missed multiple wide open receivers and the offense had to settle for field goals too often. Steve Spurrier will have a great game plan for the offense, but it will be up to them to execute it. Whether or not the Gamecocks pounce on the opportunities that are presented to them could be the difference between winning and losing.
IV. Hang in Early
It is probably an on-going theme of this article, but make no mistake the Gators will try their best to deliver an early knock-out blow to the visiting Gamecocks. The Florida coaching staff has seen first hand what a determined Steve Spurrier can do, particularly in games against his alma-mater. The longer the Gamecocks hang in there with the "mighty Gators," the more this contest will begin to feel like the 2006 game. If the Gators jump off to a two-score lead like they did last year in Columbia, then the Gamecocks might as well hop on the plane back to Columbia. But if the Gamecocks are still in the game at halftime, it could be another finish for the ages.
V. Slow the Gator Running Game
The Gator offense may be known for Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, but the running game is what has really gotten the offense going in the last five games. Speedster's Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will take a mile if you give them an inch, and really help open up the Gator offense. As good as Tebow is, he just isn't as effective standing in the pocket and picking out receivers with the entire game on his shoulders. The Gators were slowed offensively early in the season until the running game came on. Saturday defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will look to take that running game away again.
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