The Daily Gamecock

Preview: South Carolina looks to return to winning ways against Florida after bye week

The South Carolina football team (2-3, 1-2 SEC) will be looking to get back into the win column when it takes on the Florida Gators (4-2, 2-1 SEC) this Saturday.

The Gamecocks spent the past week on bye but suffered a 41-20 road loss to then-No. 21 Tennessee in its most recent game on Sept. 30. Florida, which upset the Volunteers earlier this season, earned a comfortable 38-14 win over Vanderbilt in Gainesville last weekend.

Last year, South Carolina suffered one of its biggest defeats of the season on the road in Gainesville, falling 38-6 in a game the Gators dominated on both sides of the ball. While head coach Shane Beamer said that he did not bring up last year’s game to the team ahead of this weekend, he said there are a number of areas the Gamecocks will need to improve on to ensure a different result this time around

“We have to protect the ball better than we did that night,” Beamer said. Three turnovers to start the second half is not a recipe for success. Giving up explosive runs like we gave up defensively is not a recipe for success.”

This year, Florida’s offense is led by redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz, who transferred from Wisconsin during the offseason. Across six games, Mertz has completed 140 of 175 passes for 1,474 yards and thrown nine touchdowns to two interceptions.

Beamer said Mertz and the Gators’ two leading running backs, junior Montrell Johnson Jr. and sophomore Trevor Etienne, make up one of the conference's stronger offenses. 

“If you look at just the SEC games that he’s played in against some pretty good defenses, he’s completing over 80% (of his passes),” Beamer said of Mertz. (Florida has a) really talented group of running backs. Great vision, can run with power, can make you miss.”

South Carolina’s offense is more balanced than it was at the start of the season, in part due to the emergence of redshirt senior Mario Anderson as the team’s leading running back. In his past two games, Anderson has totaled 189 rushing yards on 36 carries, scoring twice.

The Gamecocks’ air attack, however, has consistently ranked among the SEC’s best throughout the season and currently sits at fourth in the conference with 312.2 passing yards per game. Fifth-year wide receiver Xavier Legette, who ranks third in the SEC and seventh nationally with 606 receiving yards, has been a key contributor to South Carolina in the passing game.

Fifth-year wide receiver Ahmarean Brown said it’s up to other receivers on the roster, including himself, to give redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler more passing options as opposing defenses have zeroed in on Legette. Legette had his least productive performance of the season against Tennessee before the bye week, totaling just five receptions for 50 yards.

“He’ll continue to be him. You can’t take him away from the game,” Brown said. But I’m excited for me — not only me, but other guys — to step up. We have a lot of guys who can make plays, not only me. So I think that it’s important for all of us to step up and be an option for Spencer and all the guys that he can depend on.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Debo Williams has already amassed 36 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss through five games this season. Williams said the team’s bye week has not only given him time to recover from an increased workload, but it has also created opportunities for younger players to prepare for the rest of the year.

“Bye weeks are definitely great because we’ve been going at it since summertime, and then you’ve got camp, and then you come right into the season,” Williams said. Somebody like (freshman linebacker Grayson) "Pup" Howard or a freshman that’s already here, playing and getting meaningful snaps, it definitely helps because now they get another week to get the playbook under their belt and to gain that experience.”

The bye week has also allowed coaching staff to evaluate the team’s overall performance, according to Beamer. While Beamer said he is not satisfied with a 2-3 record, he is encouraged by the team fighting to the end.

“We’re not far off. It’s not like we’re going into games and just getting our butts kicked in our three losses,” Beamer said. We’ve gone into the second half of all those games. It’s not like we’ve been out of it at halftime by any stretch of the imagination. So for one, we’ve got to do a better job of finishing.”

Brown said that staying composed and disciplined will be another key to South Carolina's success this weekend.

“It’s a different game. You don’t want to play off emotion. Emotion gets you beat," Brown said. "We’re not worrying about last year because we can’t change last year. Last year's gone. That's in the rearview mirror. We’re just looking ahead, and we’re ready to attack. We're going to let that go, and we’re going to play hard and try to come out with a dub.”

The Gamecocks will face off against the Gators this Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium at 3:30 p.m. as part of USC’s Homecoming Week. The game was announced as a sell-out and will be available to watch on the SEC Network.