Early in the season, this game was circled as one of the prime matchups in the SEC East. It was a game that could have determined who the SEC East champion would be.
Then the season started. And Florida began suffering injury after injury and now the Gators are fighting just to be bowl eligible.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are looking to wrap up the SEC season with its sixth win in conference and continue their hopes and dreams of winning an SEC East division title. South Carolina is still in it and will need some help from the outside but there is a good chance that the Gamecocks sneak into that division title.
And a win over the Gators keeps them alive.
So, while this game doesn't have the allure you thought it would, it's still extremely important for both teams and likely much more important for the Gamecocks.
Florida will roll into town with several players missing due to severe injuries suffered this season. There's been injury at quarterback, running back, offensive line and in various spots on defense. It's even looking like the Gators will play redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg in place of Tyler Murphy, who's suffered from a shoulder injury. Mornhinweg has yet to play a collegiate snap in his career and struggled early this year during spring and fall camp.
With all of these injuries, it's easy for South Carolina to overlook the Gators. But the coaching staff has made sure all week long that the Gamecocks will be focused and ready for a talented Florida team, despite the missing players. This team will be led by its defense that's giving up just under 279 yards per game to opposing offenses. They've limited opponents to 19.0 points per game and just 109.7 yards per game rushing.
The offense has had its struggles due to injuries and inconsistent play. They generally don't have any playmakers that would scare their opponents. They're only averaging 20.6 points per game and 335.7 yards per game. It's nothing that you would seen under Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier when they were the coaches at Florida. So it'll be important for South Carolina's defense to make sure they keep the Gators in check and force them into uncomfortable situations.
It's South Carolina and Steve Spurrier versus the Florida Gators. It'll still be a fun Saturday night at Williams-Brice.
With that said, let's look at this week's This, That and The Other.
This is a chance for payback. Last year's game between the Gators and Gamecocks got ugly quick. And it's all because of South Carolina's own mistakes that allowed Florida to blow out the Gamecocks even though the South Carolina defense limited Florida to under 200 yards of total offense. The score wasn't close, but take away those turnovers, and it could have been a much different game and an opportunity for South Carolina to end up in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
This year, it's a game that South Carolina needs to win in order to help them get to Atlanta. The team knows this but like Ronald Patrick said this week, they can't win the SEC East this Saturday, but they sure can lose it.
This is why I think you'll see South Carolina do their best to come out strong Saturday. It doesn't have to be quick scores and a big lead right off the bat, but just some consistent play at the start of the game to set the tone will be nice for the Gamecocks. A healthy Connor Shaw should give this offense more options so look for the Gamecocks to look like they did earlier this season on offense to start the game. If that happens, it should be a good day for the Gamecocks.
That Florida is likely playing a quarterback for the first time ever could spell doom for the Gators. They're missing some players on the offensive line and putting a quarterback like Skylar Mornhinweg out there for the first time against a talented defense led by pass-rushing stud Jadeveon Clowney, there's a chance that the pressure will be there all game long.
South Carolina will need to take advantage of the Gators injuries and use their strength to wear down the Gators on both sides of the ball. If they can keep the run game in check, they likely will force Mornhinweg into uncomfortable situations. This could spell short series for the Gators, maybe a few turnovers, and some opportunities for the Gamecock offense to take over.
Injuries are a part of the game and it appears the Gators will limp into Williams-Brice with just 51 scholarship players traveling to Columbia. The Gamecocks have all the advantages here and need to make sure they get the most out of this opportunity to have a big win this Saturday.
The other aspect of this game to watch will be what Mike Davis can do on this Gator defense. As mentioned earlier, the Gators have done a great job shutting down the run game of their opponents. Mike Davis, though, is one of the top running backs in the country and much has been made about his one-time commitment to Florida and how is really excited for this game. There will be a little something extra in Mike Davis this weekend and he'll get an opportunity to show the Gators just how much they should have kept their word and not recruited any other running backs.
For Davis to be successful, he'll definitely need to get his opportunities. There's been times when the Gamecocks have gotten away from Davis and the offense struggled. They need to run Davis and give him a chance to make an impact on this game early. He can really set the tone for the Gamecocks offense as he has breakaway speed and a tough, hard nosed running style that can handle 25 carries or more.
Davis is the catalyst and workhorse of this offense. He's been better than advertised this year and would love nothing more than to put up some big numbers on the Florida Gators. Hopefully, he'll get his chance this Saturday.
This is a game that South Carolina should win. But it's a game that South Carolina can lose too. Just think back to the Tennessee game. Clearly, South Carolina had better talent but just failed to perform when it mattered most. Luckily, South Carolina gets the Gators at home this weekend so the homefield advantage will be there this year. However, this team still finds a way to make all games thrillers. Just look at the Kentucky game. The UCF game. The Vanderbilt game. Teams that South Carolina is better on paper than but still found a way to make those games closer than they should have been.
Florida will have nothing to lose this Saturday. So, they may try a few wrinkles against the Gamecocks but there just doesn't seem to be much there. They have to hope the Gamecocks turn the ball over and the offense can grind it out on the game. They won't be able to win it with Mornhinweg. There's just no way he can be called upon to win the game for Florida. But, if he plays mistake-free and they get production out of their running backs, then it's possible this game can be close.
Last year's game has been mentioned as an afterthought this week by the coaches, but rest assured that if the Gamecocks can put some points on the board this weekend, they'll give it their best shot.
Spurrier loves Florida. But he loves to win. Winning big this weekend would make him a happy man and South Carolina could have a chance to do that.
But hey, I'd take a close win too. All that matters is coming out one point ahead of Florida this weekend and staying alive in the SEC East race.
We all can agree on that.