The 11th ranked Florida football team (8-1, 6-1 SEC) will wrap up its road schedule this Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina versus the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-6, 1-6 SEC). While Florida enters the game having already clinched the SEC East title, the Gamecocks, with their lone conference win over Vanderbilt, will try to play spoiler to the Gator playoff hopes.
South Carolina has owned this match up recently having won four out of the last five including the final nail in Will Muschamp’s coffin last year with a come-from-behind 23-20 overtime win in The Swamp. While the Gamecocks have struggled this season, they have been playing at their best over the past two weeks. USC went on the road and took Texas A&M and Tennessee down to the wire before ultimately falling short by a touchdown to the Aggies and a field goal to the Vols. Florida coach Jim McElwain recognizes the Gamecock improvement and knows the Gators will have their hands full against an inspired team.
On Monday, McElwain noted that the Gators could be without several key contributors on both sides of the ball including defensive lineman Jon Bullard who leads the team in tackles for loss with 13 and is second with five sacks. With South Carolina averaging over 175 rushing yards per game, the loss of Bullard would hurt the Florida front seven especially with Joey Ivie undergoing leg surgery which will sideline him for a couple of weeks. McElwain said everyone from Monday’s injury report is good to go except for Bullard who could be a game time decision.
If Bullard can’t go, the Gators will have to rely on several others to step up in his place. Caleb Brantley, Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan have all taken reps at defensive tackle this season but Cece Jefferson and Bryan Cox, Jr. will be asked to slide inside to keep guys fresh during the game. While McElwain admits that not having Bullard would be a big blow to the defense, he does not expect a drop off in play from those replacing him.
While the Gamecocks have had some success with their rushing attack, the passing game is near the bottom of the league averaging less than 200 yards per game. Despite the struggles, South Carolina will certainly attempt to challenge the Gators secondary much more than Vanderbilt did as the Commodores only put the ball in the air 14 times and totaled 30 yards. Florida has to be aware of Gamecocks wide receiver Pharoh Cooper who leads USC in receptions (48), receiving yards (656), and touchdowns (5). South Carolina likes to move Cooper all over the field to create mismatches and McElwain knows they’ll need to find number 11 before every play.
The Gators and Gamecocks will square off in Williams-Brice Stadium at noon on Saturday.