Game preview: Florida vs. South Carolina

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
8:00
AM ET
No. 7 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) at No. 2 Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla.
CBS

Three storylines

1. Division race: This game won’t officially decide the Eastern Division championship, but it will give the winner the inside track. If the Gators win, all they would have to do is beat Georgia on Oct. 27 to win the title. If South Carolina wins, the Gamecocks would have the tiebreaker over Florida and Georgia. They still have games against Arkansas and Tennessee remaining, and the Gators would need to win out and have South Carolina and Georgia lose another game to win the title.

2. M.A.S.H units: Both teams have been ravaged by injuries and the flu. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has a bruised hip and coach Steve Spurrier said he may not start. Plus, DT Kelcy Quarles is doubtful because of a shoulder injury and DE Jadeveon Clowney is bothered by a foot injury. Several other Gamecocks are banged up, too. There’s also been a flu bug that has run through the team this week, and it caused WRs Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington to miss practice. Florida has five starters recovering from injuries: G James Wilson (eye), C Jonotthan Harrison (arm), LT Xavier Nixon (upper body), DE Dominique Easley (knee) and LB Jelani Jenkins (hamstring). UF coach Will Muschamp said all should play against the Gamecocks, but he has been vague about injuries before. If UF’s players do return, that will give the Gators the advantage.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSouth Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw might not have the track speed of Florida counterpart Jeff Driskel, but he's got a better track record as a passer.
3. Make plays in the passing game: Going on the assumption that Sanders and Ellington have recovered from the flu, this is an area which clearly favors South Carolina. Sanders and Ellington both have 17 catches, but Ellington is the big-play receiver. Sanders averages 9.4 yards per catch while Ellington averages 15.6. Connor Shaw is a dual-threat quarterback -- as is UF’s Jeff Driskel -- but Shaw is a more accomplished passer and is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 910 yards and 10 TDs with four interceptions. UF is last in the SEC in passing (145.0 yards per game). UF’s biggest weapon in the passing game is TE Jordan Reed (21 catches, 237 yards, one TD), but the WRs have struggled to get separation and to consistently make plays. Frankie Hammond (11 catches) has two catch-and-run TDs of 50 yards or longer, but he’s also got four drops. UF’s wide receivers have a combined 30 catches.

Gators to watch

RB Mike Gillislee: He didn’t put up great numbers against Vanderbilt (67 yards on 17 carries) but he did shred LSU’s defense for 146 yards. He’ll need to have similar success against the Gamecocks.

LB Jon Bostic: Bostic has benefitted from the new strength program as much as anyone. He’s more physical than he was last season and he’s able to shed blocks easier. His play will be key to the Gators’ effort to limit Lattimore.

RB Omarius Hines: It seems like every time Hines touches the ball, good things happen (except, of course, for his fumble against Bowling Green). The Gators are in need of playmakers in the passing game, and Hines should get a few chances on Saturday.

Gamecocks to watch

DE Devin Taylor: Clowney gets all the publicity, but Taylor is a dangerous pass rusher as well. Though he only has 1.5 sacks this season, he has 17.0 in his career. If the Gators pay too much attention to Clowney, Taylor could hurt them.

LB Shaq Wilson: Wilson is the Gamecocks’ leading tackler (44) and he’s made plays all over the field. He has a sack, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. Outside of Clowney, he’s the defense’s biggest playmaker.

QB Connor Shaw: He hurt Florida with his legs last season (88 yards and one TD rushing) and has run for 280 yards this season despite playing with a fractured shoulder. He is also completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 910 yards and nine TDs with only four interceptions.

Key matchup

Florida OTs Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon/D.J. Humphries vs. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney is almost impossible to handle one-on-one, but there will be a few times when the Gators will have to do that. The future first-round NFL draft pick has an amazing mix of speed, athleticism and length to go along with a high motor. The Gamecocks move him around, too, so you’re not sure from play to play where he will line up. The key to whichever OT draws him one-on-one is to stay with him on his initial burst and be as physical as possible.

By the numbers

5 -- Number of times both teams have been ranked in the AP Top 25 at game time. The previous times were 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2010.

8 -- Number of times Florida has started a season 6-0. In each of those seasons, the Gators haven’t lost more than two games.

12 -- Number of consecutive victories over Eastern Division opponents for South Carolina. It’s last loss to a division foe came against Kentucky on Oct. 6, 2010.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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