The Daily Gamecock

Behind enemy bylines: The Independent Florida Alligator sports editor picks Gamecocks, citing Gators' road struggles

<p>The University of Florida Gators defeat Vanderbilt University 38-14 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Oct. 7, 2023. The Gators defeated the Gamecocks in its last home game 38-6 on Nov. 12, 2022.</p>
The University of Florida Gators defeat Vanderbilt University 38-14 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Oct. 7, 2023. The Gators defeated the Gamecocks in its last home game 38-6 on Nov. 12, 2022.

The Gamecock football team will attempt to get back to .500 on Saturday as the team welcomes the Florida Gators to Columbia at 3:30 p.m. for its only home game in October.

Last season’s matchup was one-sided, with the Gators defeating the Gamecocks 38-6 in Gainesville. The Daily Gamecock spoke with Jackson Reyes, the sports editor of The Independent Florida Alligator, to learn more about the Florida football team.

The Daily Gamecock: How have the Gators played this season compared to your preseason expectations?

Jackson Reyes: “This season so far, they've been about par for the course for what I expected from them, aside from that win over Tennessee at home.”

“I think the biggest thing for me is that this team is kind of night and day when they're at home versus when they're on the road. When they're at home, they're able to move the ball on offense. Graham Mertz is hitting receivers. The run game looks good. Their defense has been able to stifle even a really efficient offense like Tennessee.” 

“It's one thing to struggle on the road, going through these tough environments, but they looked like a completely different football team.” 

How has Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz looked after coming in and taking over the starting quarterback role?

“He's looked pretty good. He's, I believe, at an 80% completion percentage after (Saturday). He went 30-36 against Vanderbilt. But he's a highly efficient player for Florida so far. He's only got two interceptions on the season, so he's protecting the ball.” 

“A lot of the plays are screen passes and plays that are short of the sticks to the sideline, a lot of east-west passing. But that's what Napier wants, and I think Mertz has been able to execute that to Napier's vision.” 

Last year's game was not pretty for South Carolina, so what are some of Florida’s weaknesses the Gamecocks can try and exploit to make this game more competitive?

“If South Carolina wants to get redemption after last year's game, I think they just have to exploit the run game.” 

“I don't know if it'll be that difficult, based on how Florida's run defense has played on the road, but I think that's going to be priority number one. And then number two is just making sure Florida doesn't stay on schedule. I think this is the offense that is so — it needs to be in a routine. It is one that lacks a sense of urgency sometimes. It's very much based on, 'Just stick to the game plan, and hopefully, things work out.'” 

Anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?

South Carolina is a very talented team, but Florida has such a tough stretch down the rest of the season, especially on the road, that it's going to be really important for Napier to try and win a game like this, just because bowl eligibility is going to be just so huge to keep the fanbase at bay. So I think this one's going to be one that they're going to be circling as a must-win.” 

Who wins and what’s your final score prediction?

“If it were in 'The Swamp,' I think Florida wins two straight, but since it's on the road, and looking at how Florida has performed on the road this year, I think South Carolina is going to pull this one out.” 

I'll say, South Carolina, 27-17.”