Following a comfortable win over Vanderbilt in week 10, South Carolina 6-3 (3-3 SEC) will travel to Gainesville, Florida to play the Florida Gators 5-4 (2-4 SEC) on Saturday. The SEC East rivalry game is set for a 4 p.m. kickoff and will air on the SEC Network.
The Daily Gamecock spoke with Joseph Henry, sports editor for Florida's student newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, to preview the conference showdown. The Florida defense is allowing nearly 38 points per game in losses this season while only conceding 22.4 points on average in games the Gators have won. It will be key for the Gamecocks' offense to continue the momentum from the Vanderbilt game and put points on the board this weekend.
The Daily Gamecock: What’s the atmosphere within the Florida program at this point in the season and how are the players responding so far this year?
Joseph Henry: “All of Florida's losses so far this season have come to top-25 teams, teams currently ranked in the top-25. The SEC schedule has been very, very rocky, very, very up and down. They still haven’t strung together two SEC wins, that's something they're looking to do this weekend against South Carolina after beating Texas A&M this past Saturday. But overall, I think the players are responding well to (head coach) Billy Napier, a lot of them have bought into what he's doing, the way Napier runs his program is very structured. And I think the players really respond to that, especially after the way things ended with the Dan Mullen era last season. So, while the results aren't necessarily great, I think it's kind of what people expected. The team is going to perform well when the opportunity is presented but the schedule is tough. It's just how playing in the SEC is. And I think they do have a really good chance to end the season strong, especially after that win last weekend.”
How did the season-opening win over No. 7 Utah inflate the fanbase’s expectations for the season and what do fans expect going forward?
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, we don't need to wait till next season. The time is now, like Billy Napier is going to do this in his first year.’ And they quickly got brought right back down to Earth when Kentucky came into the swamp and beat them the next week. But I mean, people were, there was (sophomore quarterback) Anthony Richardson Heisman buzz. And people kind of went a little crazy there for a second. And I think it's very indicative of how the Florida fan base is as a whole to where they kind of ride the highs and go with it. And they'll talk a lot of smack when Florida does something good. And when the lows come, it's always ‘ah, we’re building towards next season,’ which I think is the correct mindset when you look at this season as a whole if you were a Florida fan.”
Can you talk some more about Richardson’s season to this point and name a few other players who South Carolina fans should look out for on Saturday?
“Just touching on Richardson real quick before we get to some other names, he's been, in my opinion, I think he's been pretty good this season. Had some down weeks, had some up weeks, his performance last week against Texas A&M, four total touchdown was great. His performance against Utah I mean, that was a game where Utah wasn't giving him much in the passing game, but he lights them up for three rushing touchdowns … So, his performance, he kind of adapts to the game, what's been good and what the teams he's playing against give him. I would like to see him stack performances, good performances this weekend. He played well against Texas A&M, but he hasn't really like strung together two really, really strong performances in a row.”
“Outside of him on offense, Florida's a very run heavy team, it's what they’ve just become this season … It's basically a two headed monster now of sophomore (running back) Montrell Johnson (Jr.), who transferred over to Florida with Billy Napier from Louisiana Lafayette, and then freshman running back Trevor Etienne, who's the brother of Travis (Etienne) that plays for the (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) now, and the two of them are just super, super dynamic playmakers.”
“And then quickly just shifting over to the defensive side, the big name, and like he's the heart and soul of the Florida defense is Ventrell Miller. He's a super senior linebacker, he's been here forever. Him and his other linebacker, the pairing at linebacker is him and (senior) Amari Burney, they’ve both been here for a really long time.”
South Carolina is leading the SEC in interceptions this season; will the Gamecocks' defense be able to find opportunities to create turnovers against the Gators?
“The opportunity is definitely there for South Carolina to kind of rattle (Richardson) in the Florida offense, and there's some mistakes and that can create some longer-term success throughout the game for the Gamecocks. But for the most part, I mean, if Richardson stays clean, this Florida offense is just going to, I think they'll have no problem just chugging along throughout this game.”
What are you looking at as the X-factor this weekend?
“It's a momentum thing for Florida. The offense has been there, the offense had moments in the second half of the Georgia game and then all throughout. I mean, they scored 41 points against A&M. I think they'll be able to carry it through. The bigger thing is, will the defense do enough to stop South Carolina's offense and contain Spencer Rattler, who has the ability to kind of go off and battle an offense like Florida in a shootout game? And just, how are they going to perform? How are they going to deal with a quarterback that's a little more mobile, which is something that they've struggled with this season.”