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Florida vs. South Carolina, Preview: An old friend brings a familiar challenge

Hello, Will.

South Carolina v Tennessee Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I spent four days of this week dealing with getting the busted tail light panel wrought by Hurricane Irma handled. You would think that would not take four days, or even two — but it did, and so I’ve been scarce around these parts.

Even if I were around, though, I probably wouldn’t have had enlightening things to say about the Florida Gators going to a different Columbia to take on another SEC East foe — Will Muschamp’s South Carolina Gamecocks.

What you imagine might be the case about this matchup based on Muschamp’s tenure at Florida is more or less true: South Carolina’s defense is pretty good, its offense lags behind, and Florida’s general badness and injury-related limits make the Gators ripe for a loss.

When Florida has the ball

Florida running game vs. South Carolina rush defense

Florida’s running game is still its strength on offense, even without Malik Davis. Lamical Perine has had 159 yards on the ground in his last two games, and while the Gators sputtered against Missouri, they also abandoned the run earlier than they did against Georgia, and lost Brett Heggie midway through the contest.

South Carolina is good-ish against the run, ranking No. 21 in Defensive Rushing S&P+ despite less impressive component stats and giving up just nine rushing touchdowns this fall, but Florida should still be able to make at least a little headway against a defense that has given up 4.5+ yards per carry four times. (Worth noting: The Gamecocks haven’t yielded 5.0 yards per carry once.)

With Malik Zaire still starting and South Carolina native Dre Massey emerging a week ago, Florida also has options if it wants to get creative on the ground. You know, because why not? HINT, HINT, DOUG.

Edge: South Carolina

Florida passing game vs. South Carolina pass defense

South Carolina’s pass defense is very much a bend-don’t-break unit: The ‘Cocks are No. 5 in Isolated Points Per Possession, but No. 114 in Success Rate, suggesting that offense can do pretty much anything they want underneath, but cannot throw deep on South Carolina at all. And other stats back that up: The Gamecocks have allowed 87 completions of 10 or more yards this year, but just 21 of 20 or more yards, which ties for 16th nationally — and is just six back of national leader Tennessee (!?!?). You know the names responsible for South Carolina’s pass defense — Muschamp, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson, corners Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King — and none of that should be all that surprising to you.

Florida, meanwhile, is bad at passing the ball, and the deep throws that found success against Missouri seemed more like products of desperation and a truly awful Missouri defense playing soft coverage while up 20+ points.

Edge: South Carolina

When South Carolina has the ball

South Carolina running game vs. Florida rush defense

South Carolina’s Ty’Son Williams is the team’s leading runner. He had three carries for eight yards against Georgia.

Florida’s rush defense has conceded 519 yards over its last two games.

This matchup pits a resistible force against a movable object — and yet I’m still going to have to go with the force.

Slight edge: South Carolina

South Carolina passing game vs. Florida pass defense

Missouri’s Drew Lock, with the aid of a very good receiving corps, exposed Florida’s secondary defense for what it is — young, mostly — and posted the first 200+ passer rating against Florida since the folks who would become South Carolina’s defensive brain trust watched their safeties fail to learn how to play football against Blake Sims in a disastrous game at Alabama in 2014.

Jake Bentley doesn’t have as many weapons as Lock did, and he’s cooled considerably from a very good September, having failed to notch a passer rating over 140 since then. But he’s still a reliable thrower, the sort that Muschamp never had at Florida, and he’s hit on 60 percent of his throws six times in nine games.

And the lanky Bryan Edwards and burly Hayden Hurst are each matchup problems for Florida — Edwards for the Gators corners who struggle to compete with taller targets, Hurst for Florida’s almost entirely notional pass coverage from linebackers — that could have big days if Bentley is on.

Edge: South Carolina

Special teams

Florida is very good at a couple of special teams things, and very bad at many others. South Carolina just isn’t good at any of them.

Strong edge: Florida

Other factors

Muschamp has not beaten Florida. Florida has not won since September, looked rudderless against Missouri, and has like five healthy players. Come on.

Edge: South Carolina