COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) In this final preview before kickoff, we'll take a look, position by position, of just how the teams stack up against one another.
This is probably the biggest edge in the game for either side and it comes at the most critical position. Senior Connor Shaw is healthy again and has had a good week of practice. He shed the knee brace midway through the week and should go without it on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. From what we're told, he moved around well this week and has the look of being at or very close to 100 percent. Shaw wasn't his usual self against Mississippi State as he tried to hang in the pocket and not put too much strain on his injured right knee. Look for him to go back to dual-threat mode against the Gators.
One almost has to feel bad for the Gators, which will be on their third quarterback of the season on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg is likely to make the start and throw his first pass of the season. After losing season-starter Jeff Driskel, the Gators are likely to be without Tyler Murphy against the Gamecocks with a shoulder injury. There is always the option of putting Trey Burton a slash-type player, at quarterback to run the wildcat package. The Edge: CAROLINA
South Carolina has the best running back in the conference, so it will also have the best in the game. Sophomore Mike Davis, a former UF commitment, has a little bit of extra motivation for the game this week. He felt a bit slighted by the Gators and wants to have a big performance. The league's leading rusher has been held out of the end zone the last two games. Can UF make it three straight? Sophomore Brandon Wilds is back this week for the first time since September 28. Look for him to be the second-string tailback.
Running backs Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown have each had flashes this season but have not be able to be consistent performers. Part of the problem is running behind an offensive line that has lost some key parts. Part of the problem is they are just not quite as talented as the Gators are used to fielding at the position. Gators don't have a rusher in the top 15 in the league. The Edge: CAROLINA
Going based on sheer level of talent, South Carolina probably has its three best wide receivers on the field with the new trio of Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland. Ellington remains in the slot, Byrd moves to "B" and Roland now starts at "X." Junior Nick Jones hardly played against Mississippi State two weeks ago and his production has been as good as anyone's this year on the team. There's a spot for him to make some plays but the others have ceilings that are a bit higher.
While hard to adequately judge the Florida wideouts because of the ineptitude at quarterback, it would be hard to consider giving the Gators the edge here. There are some younger, talented players but Burton is the top player at the position catching an average of four passes for 46.8 yards per game. Will he catch passes or throw passes this week? If he's trying to catch, is Mornhinweg competent enough to make him a factor? The Edge: CAROLINA
Look for redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop to get his shot this week to work his way back into the fold. Clayton Stadnik has done a nice job but he's not quite as physically strong as Waldrop against a fearsome front four of the Gators. Stadnik has also rolled a few snaps and shot some high and wide. The Gamecocks started the season looking like one of the best offensive lines in the SEC this year. They may have plateaued a bit in recent weeks and they're looking for a strong end to the 2013 campaign. This will probably be their toughest test of the year in terms of physicality.
The Gators have lost two starting tackles for the season in Chaz Green and Tyler Moore. The still have some veterans across the front though with two seniors and three juniors starting, all standing 6-foot-3 or greater and all weighing over 300 pounds. Right guard Jon Halapio is the best on the squad with left tackle Max Garcia right there with him. The Edge: CAROLINA
This is where things start to turn in favor of the Gators. Saturday's guests have one of the top defensive lines in the country, even without former defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who tore his ACL the end of September. Defensive tackle Damien Jacobs is coming off of his career best game. Jon Bullard, who chose the Gators over the Gamecocks in the recruiting process, is putting together a very good sophomore year as his reps continue to increase each game. UF allows only 109.7 yards rushing per game and a lot of the reason is because of the defensive line.
South Carolina's defensive line is playing much better in recent weeks. Tackle Kelcy Quarles is playing the best football of his career and is starting to shoot up some draft boards. He's fourth in the SEC in quarterback sacks and leads the league in that stat among defensive tackles. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, nine games in, is still looking for that breakout performance. The Edge: FLORIDA
Part of the reason the Gators are so good at stopping the run is the defensive line, the other part is the linebackers. They have a fast, talented and athletic group, despite the fact that three of the 10 season-ending injuries were at the position. Granted, one of those 10 players was former USC commitment Matt Rolin, who was unlikely to play this year anyway. Another one of those linebackers is Antonio Morrison, who will miss his first game this weekend. How will his replacement perform? True freshman Jarrad Davis gets the call at the WILL position. He's played in all nine games with seven tackles.
The Gamecocks are steadily improving. Maybe it's taken a while to notice, maybe it's taken a while to happen, but they're getting better. Position coach Kirk Botkin looks to have settled on a new lineup with Kaiwan Lewis in the middle, Skai Moore on the weakside and an ever-improving Sharrod Golightly at SPUR. USC has the look of a very good linebacking corps in the future. Right now, they're still growing. The Edge: PUSH
The Gators will send out a group of defensive backs that will play a lot of man-to-man coverages against a group of Gamecocks receivers that haven't always done so well against that type of defense. Florida is ranked No. 1 in the league in pass defense giving up over 15 yards less per game than Alabama, ranked No. 2 in the league. The visitors have allowed only five touchdown passes this season and remain the only team in the league to allow teams to complete less than 50-percent of their passes. Freshman Vernon Hargreaves has the makings of a star as he has 30 tackles, eight pass breakups and three interceptions.
South Carolina should feel fairly comfortable in the secondary against UF's passing attack. Whether the same can be said or not against a team like Clemson is still to be determined. They do, however, match up well with the Gators. Corner Victor Hampton is coming off his career best game but boundary safety Brison Williams has struggled some with an ankle injury. If he is out or limited, that could be a bit of an issue. The Edge: FLORIDA
Florida, from top to bottom, just has better special teams. One intriguing stat is they are second in the league in kickoff coverage but they're second-to-last in the league in touchbacks. That means they like to kick it deep and dare the opposition to return the football. More often than not, they're unsuccessful at getting far down the field. Florida is better in punts, punt return, kickoff return, kickoff coverage and so on.
But, at least statistically, South Carolina does have a better field goal kicker! The Edge: FLORIDA
South Carolina is a better offensive team. Florida is a better defensive team. The difference is, the Gamecocks have a defense with a pulse while the Gators haven't shown much life on offense this season. Muschamp's group hasn't scored more than 20 points in the last month and that 20-point total was against a Georgia team that hasn't played much defense all season.
Florida has shown the ability to move the ball at times on offense but their ability to cash in in the red zone isn't good. The Gators have scored only 16 touchdowns in 35 red zone attempts, which is by far the worst in the league. Florida also is its own worst enemy at times leading the league in penalties racking up 65 yards of flags per game.
If South Carolina turns the ball over, there could be a reason to be nervous. Florida is typically the team that gives the ball away in a bad position putting its defense in a tough spot.
Look for South Carolina and Spurrier to dial up a lot of running plays. While Davis isn't likely to have the 40-carry kind of day that Marcus Lattimore had in Gainesville, Fla. in 2010, he will probably be just a stone's throw away from that number at the end of the night. It may not be a high-flying, blowout affair but South Carolina should feel pretty comfortable in victory. CAROLINA 26 - FLORIDA 9