Gainesville, FL – Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators are seeking a return to the win column, following last Saturday’s loss to the second-ranked LSU Tigers in Death Valley. They will get that opportunity this weekend in Columbia, South Carolina when they take on Will Muschamp and the Carolina Gamecocks. Despite Florida suffering their first loss of the season and South Carolina upending the Georgia Bulldogs, — in Athens, no less — the Gators enter this weekend’s contest as 5.5 point favorites. Let’s examine the reasons behind that.
Let’s first put the results of last weekend into perspective. Although Florida ultimately lost, they went toe-to-toe with what might be the best team in the nation, in an environment that is notoriously difficult for visiting teams to escape with a win. Gamecocks fans could argue that they went on the road and defeated a top-five team, and they would be right. However, Florida looked more impressive in their loss than South Carolina did in their victory.
Will Muschamp tried really hard to give the game back to the Bulldogs but underestimated the ineptitude of Kirby Smart. Aside from this, the Gamecocks haven’t impressed consistently throughout the season and they’ve lost a couple that they absolutely should have won.
Florida will, once again, be traveling into hostile territory this weekend but redshirt junior quarterback, Kyle Trask never even flinched at Tiger Stadium last Saturday and I don’t expect him to do so at Williams-Brice this weekend. Regardless of who trots out onto the field to lead the South Carolina offense on Saturday, I believe that the Gators have a decisive advantage at the quarterback position.
Ryan Hilinski has looked okay at times this season but has not shined with any real consistency. He averages just 6.3 yards per completion, indicating a lack of explosiveness in the passing game. Hilinski is the type of quarterback that Todd Grantham’s defensive schemes really expose. Even without Greenard and Zuniga, I think the Gators’ defense can be disruptive enough to force an errant pass or two.
If Dakereon Joyner ends up getting the nod, he adds the threat of mobility but is actually a slight downgrade in the passing game. Joyner recorded 128 yards through the air on 24 attempts, averaging just 5.3 yards per completion. He did add another 77 yards on the ground, but as I said, the passing game suffered. Either way, I don’t see the Gamecock’s offense having enough firepower to win back-to-back upsets of top-ten teams.
Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard are both listed as game-time decisions but even if they do play, I expect that they will see little action. This is a significant loss for the Gators’ defense as the duo has combined for seven of the Gators’ 26 total sacks. The loss of Greenard is especially impactful as he has been the unquestioned leader of this defensive unit. One Florida defensive back even alluded to the fact that Greenard’s absence for the majority of the loss to LSU may have been the difference in slowing Joe Burrow and the Tigers aerial assault. Without that pressure and presence, the defensive backs were left on an island.
Even if the two leading-edge rushers don’t play on Saturday, I like the Gators defense in a battle with South Carolina’s offense. Although, it will likely be much closer, in their absence.
Meanwhile, I believe Kyle Trask and a talented and veteran receiving corps will make the most of every opportunity that the Gamecock’s defense gives them. Will Muschamp defenses are known for being hard-nosed and tough. This year’s iteration is no different. However, the Gamecocks haven’t been excellent against the pass, which plays right into the hands of the Gators’ offense.
I fully expect Florida to leave South Carolina with a win on Saturday. More than this, I believe that the Gators will beat the spread. I am looking for Kyle Trask to come out with poise and confidence, silencing the crowd early. My prediction? The Gators win, 35-14.
The Gators will take on the Gamecocks of South Carolina, live on ESPN at 12 p.m. EST. The game will be at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.