This, That and the Other: Central Florida
It's time to return to work.
South Carolina will hit the road this week and travel to Orlando to take on non-conference foe Central Florida Knights. Both the Gamecocks and the Knights had this past Saturday off and having been preparing to do battle ever since they both stepped on the field on September 14.
Currently, South Carolina holds a 3-0 edge on Central Florida in the series, including Steve Spurrier's first game as South Carolina's head coach in 2005. While this isn't a big rivalry between either team, both schools are looking to continue their winning ways with Central Florida looking to pull of their greatest upset in school history.
For the first time, Central Florida will be broadcast on national television when the game kicks off at 12:07 on ABC. The Knights and their fans are building up a lot of hype for this game which is rightfully so. They are coming off an upset win over Penn State two weeks ago by a score of 34-31. They have scored over 30 points in the first three games of the season for the first time every and sit at 3-0 on the season. A win over the Gamecocks would be the highest victory over a ranked team that they've ever had.
South Carolina will have to deal with a potent quarterback in Blake Bortles. Bortles has thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception this season with 816 yards passing on 71.4 percent completion percentage. He's averaging over 272 yards passing in three games this season. He leads a high-powered offense averaging 36.7 points per game and has a nice complement in running back Storm Johnson. Johnson, the former Miami Hurricane, is averaging over 100 yards per game and has scored six touchdowns in just three games this year. These two players can cause trouble for the Gamecocks defense so the rest for South Carolina will be much needed.
On the other side, Central Florida's defense has done a solid job of limiting opponents this season. They are giving up just 12.7 points per game and allowing under 300 yards of total offense. They've held their opponents to less than 10 points so far this season in each of the first three quarters of the game. They've forced four turnovers, including three fumbles, and have 20.0 tackles for loss on the year. They're opponents haven't been national championship-level with Florida Internal and Akron mustering only seven points total between the two and Penn State is not the same level they were a few years ago. Still, they have been able to slow down two of their three opponents and will look to keep the Gamecocks offense at bay.
It's an interesting game with South Carolina traveling down to play a lower-level non-conference opponent. There's really nothing to gain with the Gamecocks playing in this game but this is the cards they've been dealt. South Carolina is treating this game just like any other game and are focused at the task at hand. It's a tough road test for the Gamecocks with the line at around seven points in favor of South Carolina. It has the makings of a close one this Saturday. We'll have to see what happens.
With that said, let's get to this week's This, That, and the Other.
This is an opportunity for the defense to slow down one of the best quarterbacks they'll face all season. Bortles has been extremely impressive this season and is continuing his strong play from last season. They're saying Bortles is one of the best signal-callers for UCF since Dante Culpepper. That's high praise for the redshirt junior. The thing that seems to set Bortles apart from the rest is his ability to protect the football. Before his interception two weeks ago against Penn State, he hadn't thrown an interception in 232 attempts, which was a school-record. He protected the football in high school and has done just the same as the starting quarterback for the Knights since 2011. He also has some mobility to his game as well, but is a smart quarterback that has a dangerous arm.
Containing Bortles will be key for the Gamecocks and it's a good thing Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton got some rest this past weekend. Both players have been nursing foot injuries and a week off to rest has done wonders. Their speed and agility will be key to keeping Bortles in check and making sure he's got pressured in the pocket. For a player that doesn't make a lot of mistakes, South Carolina will need to disguise Clowney to give Bortles different looks to force uncomfortable situations.
It'll be a tough task slowing down the UCF quarterback but this should be one of the most athletic defenses he faces all season long. Something has to give this weekend if Bortles is costly with the football and feeling the pressure, it should be a good day for the South Carolina defense.
That South Carolina's offense is on a roll heading into this game should give the fans some hope that they'll score some points on this defense. Connor Shaw has played exceptionally well with the football making accurate passes and smart decisions. He's got an All-SEC caliber running back in Mike Davis with Brandon Wilds sharing the load and receivers like Nick Jones and Bruce Ellington emerging in recent weeks. The offensive line has done their part this season even though there has been an early season injury at the center position. However, Clayton Stadnik's performance has given South Carolina two options moving forward and both players should expect to play for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks offense is averaging 479.7 yards per game and have an equal balance between the run game and the passing game. The offense seems to be producing at a more consistent level than what we've seen in the past. Given that UCF gave up 455 yards to a Penn State offense led by a true freshman quarterback, South Carolina should be able to move the ball against this defense. Yes, UCF has done well this year on defense but when they were matched up against a higher quality opponent, they gave up a lot of yardage and over 30 points. It's possible that the Gamecocks have a better offense than Penn State so the potential is there to see another 30+ point outing from the Gamecocks.
If that happens, South Carolina should be in control and on the way to victory over Central.
The other thing to look out for is how well South Carolina's defense does on third down against Central Florida. Currently, the Knights are converting 55% of their third downs, which puts them at No. 14 overall in the Division I-A. South Carolina has given up 34.1% conversions on third downs on defense. A good number but one that places them at 41st overall in the NCAA. There has been times when the Gamecocks defense has been on the field too long and failed to limit the opponents chances on offense. You cannot allow a player like Bortles to have multiple opportunities to move the ball down the field and give the defense fits.
South Carolina did a much better job against Vanderbilt, limiting them to just 2-of-12 conversion on third downs, and it helped them to victory. Granted, Vanderbilt made a late comeback due to some special teams issues but it wasn't the defense's fault as to why that game ended up closer in the end.
The Gamecocks will need to get Central Florida off the field early and often this Saturday. It's going to be a challenge but if they can limit UCF's chances then they should find their offense on the field much more than their defense.
As it was in the Vanderbilt game, special teams could play a factor for the Gamecocks. They had several miscues and poor returns that put them in bad position throughout the game. Central Florida has a solid kicking duo in Shawn Moffitt and punter Caleb Houston. They've got a few good returners as well and George O'Leary is known for trusting his special teams. South Carolina needs the return of Victor Hampton as a punt returner to help in the return game. The potential is there but he has to play smarter and be more careful with his returns. It looks like South Carolina will replace Shon Carson at kick returner with Bruce Ellington, who is a much better option. These few moves alone should help South Carolina pick up their performance in their special teams play.
This game just has the feeling that it will be close. It's not like Central Florida are world beaters but they've got a nice team with some good pieces on both sides of the ball. It appears that South Carolina should be able to move the ball through the air in the passing game, which means Dylan Thompson could get some playing time as well. Both he and Shaw are capable of making plays downfield and attacking an area of weakness would be a smart move for Steve Spurrier and the offense.
Saturday is an important game for both teams but South Carolina needs to make sure it comes home with a win. They can't travel to Central Florida and avoid some letdown that could kill any momentum they were hoping to gain for this long stretch of winnable games coming up.
Every game is important and this week is no different.
Just another day at the office for the Gamecocks.