Yangxing Ding / The Daily Gamecock

Florida Q&A: Malik Zaire set to start against Gamecocks

Preparing for Saturday's matchup against Florida, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp doesn't want his players to be fooled by the Gators' tape from two weeks ago.

After winning the SEC East in 2016, Florida is not having the flourishing season most spectators thought it would. 

But Muschamp, who was the head coach at Florida from 2011-14,  knows not to underestimate his former team.

"They’ve had a lot of uncertainty off the field," Muschamp said of Florida. "Having been through it, it is a distraction. It will take its mental toll on you. That’s why the consistent message from me all the time is about our preparation and how we prepare. How we go about our business and our preparation for the game is going to determine the outcome."

The Daily Gamecock sports staff caught up with The Alligator sports editor Matthew Brannon to preview Saturday's matchup between the Gamecocks and Gators. 

Q: Florida is coming off a 45-16 defeat to Missouri and has lost four straight SEC games. What were your observations from the loss to Missouri? What is the overall mood of the Gators team after the coaching change from Jim McElwain to interim head coach Randy Shannon?

A: Missouri was a train wreck and indicative of how distracted the Gators have been since McElwain was fired. Defensive players were giving up on plays. Offensive players were drawing dumb penalties. And while Florida was still a struggling team with McElwain at the helm, it was never this bad. While the most players seem to like Shannon, it’s obvious that the younger players are especially pissed off over losing their coach. 

Q: Shannon announced graduate transfer Malik Zaire would start at quarterback against Missouri in place of redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. After Zaire threw a pick and was 13-for-19 passing, Shannon put Franks in the game for the final two Florida drives and indicated he had to evaluate the position again. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback's game? Do you expect both Zaire and Franks to see time Saturday?

A: While Franks held the starting job for most of the season and Zaire’s taken over lately, it’s obvious that the only person who can run the offense is Luke Del Rio, who broke his collarbone when his right tackle let a Vanderbilt defender shoot through the line in late September. Franks is immature in the pocket, always looking to roll out of his protection right away. Franks also can’t get the offense lined up effectively or recognize defensive mismatches and call audibles to exploit them. He’s got crazy talent but not enough football IQ. Zaire is a little more tested but has a worse arm and likes to scramble, but rarely gets more than a couple yards. Shannon said Zaire will start Saturday but if he’s terrible after the first half, Franks will probably come in.  

Q: South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley faced Florida in the first road game of his collegiate career in 2016. In that game, Bentley completed 18 of his 33 pass attempts, totaling 213 passing yards with zero touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 20-7 loss. Now that Bentley is more comfortable in the starting quarterback position, what do you expect to see from him and his arsenal of offensive weapons against Florida's defense at Williams-Brice Stadium? 

A: Florida’s secondary isn’t what it was last year. It lost four key pieces in Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye to the draft while Marcell Harris tore his Achilles before the season. While Jake Bentley didn’t have a lights-out game against Georgia, he’s going up against a more inexperienced secondary Saturday that gave up a few big plays against Missouri. The only way UF can mess with Bentley is if the Gators’ pass rush drastically improves from last week. Florida had no sacks or QB hits on Mizzou’s Drew Lock and didn’t even record a single tackle for loss (for the first time since 2002). 

Q: The last time these two teams faced, Florida came away with a 20-7 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. What is your prediction for the South Carolina-Florida matchup this season (with score) and why?

A: Last time I checked, I think the betting odds said the ‘Cocks were favored by seven points. That’s a joke. After last week, UF is in no shape to compete with South Carolina barring a massive improvement or USC collapse. I expect South Carolina to win, 24-6. I don’t see UF getting in the end zone. 

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