- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 2 Florida plays host to No. 7 South Carolina on Saturday with first place in the SEC's Eastern Division on the line. While this game won’t clinch the title, a victory for the Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1) would give them the tiebreaker over the Gators (6-0, 5-0) and Georgia (5-1, 3-1).
Here's five storylines for the game:
1. Running game is key: Both teams are built on the running game and both have very good workhorse backs. South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore likely would already have more than 3,000 career yards had he not missed five games in 2011 with an ACL injury. But the 6-foot-2, 218-pound junior seems to have recovered well and has run for 584 yards and 10 TDs this season. He’s a physical runner who moves the pile and doesn’t get stopped behind the line of scrimmage. UF’s Mike Gillislee was a role player his first three seasons but has been fantastic as the Gators’ top tailback this season (615 yards, 7 TDs). The 5-11, 209-pound senior is also a physical, between-the-tackles runner, but he’s also got breakaway speed and a surprising amount of wiggle. Both of them will be fed the ball a lot on Saturday and limiting their impact on the game will be top task for each defense.
2. Make plays in the passing game: This clearly favors South Carolina, because the Gamecocks have better playmakers at receiver than the Gators. Ace Sanders and Bruce 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. He 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), and Driskel has thrown for 836 yards and four TDs with one interception. The Gators’ biggest weapon in the passing game is TE Jordan Reed (21 catches, 237 yards, one TD), but the WRs have struggled. They have a combined 30 catches. Frankie Hammond has 11 catches and four drops.
3. Contain the pass rush: South Carolina is fourth nationally and leads the SEC with 26 sacks, and sophomore Jadeveon Clowney tops the list with 6.5. The 6-6, 256-pound defensive end is a matchup nightmare for offensive tackles because of his size, speed and athleticism. South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward does a great job of moving Clowney around, so it’s hard for opponents to have one plan to deal with him. Plus, the Gamecocks are talented enough that if you focus too heavily on stopping Clowney, there are other players who can hurt you, beginning with DE Devin Taylor. Though he has only 1.5 sacks this season, the senior has 17 in his career.
4. Make it a field position game: When you build teams with a running game and defense, field position becomes an important part of the game. Florida clearly has the advantage here with P Kyle Christy, who is sixth nationally and leads the SEC with a 46.4 average. He has put 12 punts inside the 20 and has 11 punts of 50 or more yards. He is very good at flipping the field, especially if the Gators are backed up deep on their own side of the field. South Carolina’s Tyler Hull averages 38.4 yards per punt.
5. Make Driskel win the game with his arm: Driskel has been a solid passer, but he has really hurt teams with his legs. He is coming off a 177-yard rushing performance against Vanderbilt (which broke Tim Tebow’s school record for most rushing yards by a QB) in which he out-ran defensive backs on several long runs. South Carolina will try to keep him in the pocket and make him make plays in the passing game, which the Gators have struggled to do the past two weeks. They’ve thrown for less than 100 yards in each game, the first time they’ve done that in back-to-back games since 1989. However, limiting Driskel’s effectiveness as a runner and forcing the Gators to pass hasn’t been done yet by any defense.
13hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough