Stop me if you’ve heard this before: An offensively-limited Florida team is facing a potentially treacherous late-season game in The Swamp, and the Will Muschamp-coached outfit is coming in with a bunch of injuries.
Sure, today’s clash between the Gators and South Carolina means those teams are two distinct ones rather than one and the same, but the contours of this one are familiar. Will the Gators finally get some offense? Will the merry band of players who play hard but not always well for Muschamp scratch out another close game?
Let us take a closer look.
When Florida has the ball
Florida’s still working around having Feleipe Franks as its quarterback, it would seem, and the version of Franks who sprays throws and vexes Gator Nation has shown up more often than not of late. So it is probably a good thing that South Carolina has been pliable against the run and slightly stiffer against the pass: Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine, and Dameon Pierce should be relied on heavily on this Saturday, and could take the load off Franks if they can have success against a Gamecocks run defense that coughs up 4.3 yards per carry and has given up 46 runs of 10 or more yards this year.
Of course, South Carolina’s defense is practically a M.A.S.H. unit coming into this Saturday. No fewer than four safeties have been lost for extended stretches this year, and defensive end Bryson Allen-Williams missed practice this week and is unlikely to be at full strength this Saturday — if he plays at all.
It’s possible that South Carolina has the weakest defense Florida has seen since September, given the personnel on hand for the Gamecocks. Whether Florida can take advantage of that remains to be seen.
When South Carolina has the ball
Unfortunately for the Gators, their own defense isn’t exactly operating at its full capacity right now, either.
The Gators have given up 27, 36, and 38 points in their last three outings without a defensive or special teams touchdown, and the once-vaunted Todd Grantham blitz-when-you-can scheme was shredded by both Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Missouri’s Drew Lock. Florida is no great shakes either at stopping the run (where its numbers are almost identical to South Carolina’s) or at stymieing a passing attack, and while South Carolina will be without full-strength versions of Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams, it still has relatively hale editions of Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel, each of whom could tax the Gators.
Florida is probably better off on defense if it can force the Gamecocks to throw, but I wouldn’t count on the Gators making a lead stand up until I see it.
When both teams are kicking
Florida’s special teams are really good. You know this, even if you also know that Tommy Townsend marred what’s been an otherwise superlative year with some questionable personal fouls a week ago.
South Carolina’s special teams may be better. Samuel’s a touchdown threat as a kick returner, having housed four kickoffs in his career and sprinting for his fourth six just last week, and the Gamecocks are sound in the kicking, punting, and kick and punt coverage facets of special teams as well. About the only place they struggle is on punt returns, where Bryan Edwards has failed to make a mark.
The Muschamp factor
I think most of the strongest feelings Florida fans have for Will Muschamp — and any consequent feelings Muschamp has towards Florida and its fans — have largely died down, with Muschamp settled in at South Carolina and seemingly quite far from building an SEC East power.
But Muschamp coming to Gainesville and knocking off Dan Mullen’s Gators in Mullen’s first year as Florida’s head coach might mean a lot to the Gamecocks in recruiting, and would be a blow to Florida’s prestige that Mullen would have to deal with. I think Florida is likely to play hard in this game to match the Gamecocks’ intensity, and I think Florida is the better team, but I wonder whether it will be tightly wound.