Gamecocks face tough road test vs. No. 3 Florida

Gamecocks face tough road test vs. No. 3 Florida
Ernest Jones takes down a Tennessee ball carrier during a game between the Gamecocks and Volunteers on Sept. 26, 2020. (Source: Sideline Carolina)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - When South Carolina got unveiled their schedule, the challenge of playing against some of the country’s best teams awaited the Gamecocks with five ranked teams on the slate.

To make matters more challenging, the Gamecocks found themselves tasked with facing three of their first four opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. This week, Carolina takes on Florida, who currently sits at No. 3 in the AP Top 25.

The Gators exploded in their season opener putting up 51 points against Ole Miss and they’re looking to build on that success. It all starts on offense for the Gators with quarterback Kyle Trask. The redshirt senior was 30-of-41 passing for 416 yards and six touchdowns in the win over the Rebels.

“You’ve got to like the guy as far as sticking it out, waiting his turn, and cashing in on his opportunity when he had it,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s a really good football player. He’s got great pocket presence. He really feels and evades the rush extremely well. He buys time for himself. He constantly has his eyes downfield, which creates some issues. That’s why they have a lot of explosives that are off-rhythm plays.”

One of Trask’s favorite targets is tight end Kyle Pitts. The junior had eight catches for 170 yards and four touchdowns last weekend.

“Kyle Pitts is probably the best tight end in the country,” Muschamp said. “I would assume he is. He’s certainly the best one we’ll see. Long, athletic has speed, difficult matchup guy, but has a very good knack of getting open and finding space and Trask, obviously, they’ve got a good rapport as far as the throwing game is concerned.”

While Trask and Pitts can be dangerous when they connect, there are still several other weapons that the Gamecocks are aware of on the Florida roster. With that in mind, Carolina hopes to contain Dan Mullen’s offense and limit the big plays this weekend.

“We need to stay away from explosive plays, against this team especially,” Muschamp said “You look at when they played in Oxford on Saturday, it was a lot of explosives. It was a lot of off-rhythm plays where he buys time in the pocket. When he scrambles, he’s scrambling to throw and he’s got really good guys down the field. He’s very accurate with the football. They finish with on balls down the field. When they get some guys in open space, he does a nice job of distributing the football.”

The Carolina defense hopes to get a boost in the secondary with Israel Mukuamu and Jamar Brown returning from injuries.

Defensively, Florida looks to stop a Carolina offense hoping to stretch the field. The Gamecocks leaned heavily on Shi Smith, who had 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in last week’s loss to Tennessee. While it was a good showing for the senior, Muschamp hopes to get more players involved to help the offense.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to look at some other guys,” Muschamp said. “Luke Doty’s going to have some opportunities. If you can’t win in man coverage, it’s hard to throw it to you. We’re going to see man coverage Saturday. We’re going to see it for the rest of the year in our league and that’s just part of it, especially in those ‘deny the ball’ downs in third-and-6 or less. That’s what you’re going to see. You’ve got to win versus man coverage.”

Still, the challenge that Florida’s defense presents won’t be an easy one to overcome with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham calling the plays and mixing things up for the Gators on that side of the ball.

“Defensively, Todd Grantham’s a guy I’ve got a lot of respect for,” Muschamp said. “They lost some really good players off a very good defense last year. Ventrell Miller had an outstanding game Saturday. I think he had 14 or 15 tackles. They’ve got Marco Wilson, Akira Elam, some good cover guys on the back end, and they’ve recruited good players.”

Should the Gamecocks win, it’ll be Muschamp’s third win against a ranked opponent as the head coach at South Carolina.

Saturday’s game between South Carolina and Florida takes place at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville and starts at noon. The game can be seen on ESPN.

Copyright 2020 WIS. All rights reserved.