The Gators take on the South Carolina Gamecocks tomorrow night at 7:45. What once was a one-sided SEC game for the Gators has become a big time rivalry game ever since former Gator and Gator coach Steve Spurrier took over the reigns at South Carolina. It was started by Spurrier immediately when he cut the number of visitor tickets that would be available for the Gator/Gamecock game in 2006. It was made even worse when the Gators lost the game in Columbia that year. Last year Spurrier was on the visiting sideline for the first time in his life when he brought a tough team into the Swamp. The game was back and forth and the Gators needed to block a last minute field goal to win the game and go to the SEC championship and eventually the National Championship.
This year the game means a lot for both teams once again and none of it has to do with who the coach for either team is. South Carolina has two tough games left on their schedule and if they want to go to a decent bowl they need to win at least one, if no both of them. The Gamecocks have been up and down all season mainly due to a very inconsistent offense. Meanwhile the gators still have a shot at the SEC East crown if they can win this game and get some help from Tennessee and Georgia. While the Gamecocks have been inconsistent on offense the Gators have had the opposite problem, struggling on defense. This is the final SEC game for the Gators, who will finish up with FAU and rival FSU in the final two weeks of the season. They need to finish strong and win this game; sticking it to the ball coach.
South Carolina had a rough game last week not only losing to Arkansas, but also having several key members of the team getting injured. Leading rusher Cory Boyd sprained his shoulder, Strong Safety Emmanuel Cook injured his ankle, and Corner Captain Munerlyn also injured his ankle. Boyd is expected to play, but the other two are questionable and even if they do play they will be limited by their ankle injuries. The injuries would be big blows to the Carolina defense because Munerlyn is their captain and best cover corner, while Cook is the leading tackler on the team. If these two defenders are out the Gator offense will have an even easier time moving the ball down the field.
Those injuries to the secondary hurt even more because it has been the secondary that has been the staple of the defense. South Carolina has the second overall defense in the SEC giving up only 20.8 points per game, but that is the by product of having such a great pass defense. The run defense of the Gamecocks has been absolutely terrible and they are 11th in the SEC in run defense. Last week Arkansas ran all over South Carolina gaining over 400 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, the pass defense is 4th in the SEC and has more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. The loss of Cook will hurt them not only in that secondary, but also stopping the run, thus depleting them in an area that they already are bad in.
While the Gators do not have a running back like Darren McFadden to run against this defense, they do have Percy Harvin. Last week the Gators ran Harvin like he was their running back and he ran for over 100 yards against a good Vanderbilt defense, while still getting over 100 yards in receiving. Harvin and Fayson will be called upon once again to get the ball out of the backfield and expose that South Carolina run defense in the game. While Harvin is a wide receiver, he runs better than most running backs and he will tear this South Carolina defense a part on Saturday. The Gators will use a rotation at running back to keep the guys fresh and allow Harvin to get into the passing game, but expect Harvin to get the majority of the carries.
The Gamecock offense will be lead by senior Blake Mitchell, who had been replaced by Freshman Chris Smelley earlier this season due to ineffectiveness. Mitchell's stats on the year are: 59.3% passing, 6 TD and 6 INT. The Gamecocks have thrown for the most yards of any team in the SEC and this will be a problem for the Gators. The weakest part of the Gators defense has been the young secondary. While they have been getting better as each week goes on, they are still young and Spurrier has a way of confusing young players with his schemes.
The pressure up front will need to come like it did last week to help out the secondary. The Gators front four has not been great this season, but last week they finally got some pressure up front and caused havoc in the backfield. Mike Pouncey switched from the offensive line to the defensive line and he not only clogged the middle to stop the run, but also was able to get up the field and help get pressure. The young Gators are stepped up last week and will need to again this week. Freshman Safety Major Wright will play with a smaller cast on his hand, but Kyle Jackson may get the start again over Wright. This would be a set back for the Gators because Jackson has been terrible all year long, while Wright has been great in run support and decent in coverage. If the front four can get pressure and the secondary can bend, but not break the gators will win this game.
PREDICTION: Gators 34 SC 24