South Carolina’s A-Comin’

The biggest football-related storyline with the game this Saturday has to do with the quality of the South Carolina’s defense. Specifically, it is statistically the best Florida has played so far. Ellis Johnson has made a big difference, they’ve got a 4-2-5 scheme, and so on and so forth.

Not so fast my friends, many Florida fans have said. Their response is that of course South Carolina has better stats than the teams UF has faced so far. The reason? They haven’t played the Gators yet, so their numbers haven’t been diminished by a Florida offensive outburst yet.

Well, let’s examine that one for a second:

SEC Defenses & the Florida Effect
Team Yds/Game Points/Game Yds/Game net UF Pts/Game net UF
LSU 303.44 24.2 282.00 20.9
Kentucky 324.50 20.1 311.00 15.3
Georgia 308.90 24.9 301.78 22.2
Vanderbilt 334.33 19.3 323.37 16.5
South Carolina 256.50 15.6 ??? ???

As you can see, if you take away the Florida game from these opponents then no one is doing as well as the Gamecocks at total defense. Kentucky would be slightly better at scoring defense than South Carolina without the 63-point shelling the Gators delivered to them in Gainesville. Vanderbilt is right there with them without the 42 the Gators just scored in Nashville.

So South Carolina is clearly the best team at total defense of those Florida has faced in its post-Ole Miss reign of terror. They’re about 30 yards a game stingier than LSU (net Florida) is. The Gamecocks are about five points a game better than LSU (net Florida) and almost a touchdown a game better than Georgia (net Florida). How much does that really matter though when Florida hasn’t won by fewer than 28 points against any of them?

UF has been making pretty good defenses look bad lately. No one has been able to get pressure on Tim Tebow as Miami and Ole Miss did, and Florida has been doing a better job of spreading the ball around to all of its playmakers. In addition, the Gators have become more of a power offensive team instead of spreading it out and tossing it to the edges. Opposing coaches have told that to EPSN’s Chris Fowler, and Urban Meyer confirmed that it’s true.

The catch is that South Carolina’s defense is pretty powerful too. Meyer has mentioned that as a concern: “Their linebackers…270 (pounds), 260. Then they have that 300 pound inside guy. This is the most difficult week we’ve had getting ready.” Those guys he mentioned are linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley along with DT Nathan Pepper, if you’re counting along at home.

Norwood, for his part, has said that Florida won’t get to 40 points on Saturday. He’s hoping the game goes a lot like his first contest with the Gators, when Florida got a mere 17 points, as opposed to last year when Tebow accounted for seven (!) touchdowns on the way to 51 team points. Of course, he also says it will be “a different story” in that the Gators won’t win.

As a reminder, this is the end of the story that Norwood wants to make different.

He was doing so well, but then he said he will get a sack and it “definitely [is] going to hurt” Tebow. Last season Geno Hayes made a similar promise about taking Tebow down, and Tim led the way to a 45-12 win. Earlier this year Tennessee’s Demonte Bolden trash talked Tebow, and the Gators scored on six of their seven drives (that didn’t involve running out the clock at the end) to win comfortably 30-6. It’s one thing to think it, it’s another to say it.

So yes, South Carolina has a great defense, but don’t forget, so does Florida.

Defenses
Team Total Defense Scoring Defense
Florida 286.22 11.9
South Carolina 256.50 15.6

These Gator guys can stop an offense too. Though the Gamecocks hold a lead in total defense, Florida holds a lead in scoring defense by over a field goal. I think in this series, we all know what a difference a field goal can make.

One more time for the folks in the back.

It should go without saying that Florida’s offensive numbers are better than South Carolina’s. SC is averaging 24 points a game, and the Gators’ lowest point total for the whole season is 26. The Gamecocks lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, and LSU and scored 17, 7, and 17 points in the process. Florida defeated those teams and scored 42, 49, and 51 points in the process.

So you can see pretty clearly why I am having a hard time making a case for a South Carolina upset. The amount of effort the Gamecocks must make in order to win is pretty large. If each team holds the other to half their normal offensive output, the Gators win 24-12. If the Gamecocks hold Florida to its lowest offensive output of the year, they’ll still need to overachieve their scoring average by a field goal to win against a defense that has given up more than 14 points twice and more than 21 points once.

South Carolina will have to get turnovers like Ole Miss did to win, and here’s why. Florida will probably intercept a pass or two, since Miami is the only team not to throw one to the orange and blue this year, and Gamecock quarterbacks have yet to go a full game without an interception all year. Florida will probably get a big special teams play or three. Plus, Florida’s offense will probably score several touchdowns.

The Gamecocks must force turnovers to give its ugly offense short fields and good opportunities. They must do their best to minimize giveaways. They will probably try to shorten the game and keep the Gator offense off the field, but be warned: Tennessee attempted that same thing but they got down and ended up not having enough time to mount a comeback in the end.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Florida can cover the 21-point spread. A 38-14 score would do it, and it is plausible with the way the Gators have often pulled away late in games.

Excluding points off turnovers, no one has scored more than 21 on Florida all season. Even then, Ole Miss needed a couple of staggering defensive breakdowns to get 14 of those. If the Gator offense continues to take care of the ball as it has all season and the defense doesn’t give up huge plays as it has generally avoided all season, then there’s no way Florida loses.

The Gators will not be napping. It’s not a 12:30 Raycom game. Florida is in the thick of the national title race. Meyer is raving about the chemistry and professionalism of the team at every opportunity. Oh yeah, and that former coach whose name is up in the stadium twice is coming to town too.

It probably won’t be pretty, but I expect Florida to get a businesslike win.

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