COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The SEC East championship may no longer be up for grabs any more, but the Gamecocks still have a few goals they can achieve heading into their SEC Finale against Florida.
The Gators are coming off a disappointing 38-17 loss to Missouri, their second straight setback. With the Gators looking to get back on the winning track, Saturday’s game becomes equally as important for Florida and South Carolina as bowl attempt to improve their potential bowl destination.
“What we’ve got to do is figure out where we’re at and how to continue to move forward,” said Gators head coach Dan Mullen. “I kind of said the other day, we’ve got to compete. We’ve got to come out desperate to compete on every play.”
Florida enters the contest without the services of quarterback Kyle Trask, who suffered a season-ending foot injury during Wednesday’s practice. With Trask out, Florida will have to rely on Feleipe Franks, who has struggled in recent games. This year, the redshirt sophomore has failed to break 200 passing yards in three of his past four games. On the season, Franks has completed just over 55 percent of his passes for 1,595 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Feleipe Franks can make all the throws,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s got tremendous arm talent. I know he shown flashes this year of being a very effective quarterback.”
With freshman Emory Jones now possibly entering the mix for playing time, the Gamecocks have to be ready for whatever the Gators throw at them on offense. Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Gamecocks know they’ll have to find a way to contain the Gators’ veteran receiving corps. Between juniors Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, and Josh Hammond, the trio has hauled in 49 catches for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“They’re very big and explosive outside with (Freddie) Swain, (Van) Jefferson, (Trevon) Grimes, (Tyrie) Cleveland and (Josh) Hammond,” said Muschamp. “They’re all guys that can run vertically. They’re all big guys that can go judge the ball down the field (and) finish plays down the field.”
On the ground, Florida ranks eighth among SEC teams with just under 185 yards per game. Led by Lamical Perine with 480 rushing yards and three touchdowns, Dan Mullen’s running backs can be dangerous on any given Saturday.
“(Jordan) Scarlett, (Lamical) Perine and (Dameon) Pierce are all very similar backs: compact, big lower body, (can) run through contact,” Muschamp said. (I’ve) been very impressed with them and their offensive line and the movement they get in the run game. Dan does a really good job offensively in keeping you off-balance and giving you some different looks week-to-week. We’ll have to make some adjustments in the game.”
Defensively, Florida is among the middle of the pack in the SEC when it comes to scoring defense. The Gators give up about 21 points per game. However, Florida has surrendered over 30 points in their last two games. Still, the Gamecocks have no intention of taking the Gators’ defense lightly.
“On first and second down, they’ll bring some (pressure),” said Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley. “Definitely not as much as they do on third down. On third down, they do bring some exotic blitzes that we’ve got to be ready for.”
The Gamecocks can come away with back-to-back seasons with a conference record of .500 or better if they can defeat the Gators. It would be just the fourth time in school history that has happened if Carolina can pick up the win Saturday.
South Carolina will face Florida at noon on Saturday in Gainesville. The game can be seen on ESPN.