South Carolina (5-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) plays No. 19 Florida (6-3, 4-3) on Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Here are five burning questions heading into that game”
Who will carry USC running game?
Leading rusher Rico Dowdle returned to practice Wednesday, but it’s tough to believe Dowdle is going to be full strength after watching him get helped off the field last week against Ole Miss due to an ankle injury. Second-leading rusher Ty’Son Williams broke a bone in his hand against the Rebels and was wearing a hard cast early in the week. He hopes to be able to transition to a soft cast for the game, but it could be that Mon Denson and A.J. Turner take most of the carries against Florida. Given that Denson is coming off a career-high 102 yards and Turner led the team in rushing last year that’s hardly cause for panic, but it could create a depth issue for South Carolina.
Can Gamecocks stop Gators running game?
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Florida doesn’t have a running back in the top 10 of the SEC, and the Gators running game statistically is in the middle of the pack, but South Carolina has a lot of respect for Florida backs Lamical Perine, Jordan Scarlett and Dameon Pierce. “They have three great running backs,” safety Steven Montac said. That trio averages 5.77 yards per carry, while the Gamecocks are 12th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 182 yards per game on the ground. Florida doesn’t love the way quarterback Feleipe Franks is playing right now, but that won’t matter if South Carolina can’t stop the run. The Gators run the ball on 57.4 percent of their snaps.
Can South Carolina win in The Swamp?
No South Carolina coach other than Steve Spurrier has beaten the Gators in Florida. The Gamecocks are 2-14 all-time in The Swamp. South Carolina and then-freshman quarterback Jake Bentley were completely overwhelmed in their last trip to Gainesville, but Bentley and head coach Will Muschamp believe a more veteran Gamecocks team will handle the environment better this week. Florida’s home field certainly hasn’t been invincible this year. The Gators have lost to both Kentucky and Missouri in The Swamp in Dan Mullen’s first year as head coach.
Will Gamecocks take next step?
This is a very significant game for South Carolina for two reasons. First, the Gamecocks could post back-to-back winning seasons in the SEC for just the fourth time in school history with a win. Second, they could snap an eight-game losing streak against ranked teams. Both of those would be meaningful markers of progress in Muschamp’s third season, and the outcome of this game will go a long way toward shaping the narrative of how South Carolina enters the 2019 season.
Are the Gators in disarray?
The question that might have the most impact on the game has nothing to do with South Carolina. Florida appears to be in some level of turmoil entering Saturday’s game. The Gators were considering a change at quarterback until backup Kyle Trask suffered a season-ending injury in practice this week. Earlier in the week, Mullen denied rumors of a locker room incident involving Franks, the starting quarterback, and the general mood in Gainesville is low. Florida fans were high on Dan Mullen after he beat LSU, but if he loses at home to Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina in his first season, Gator fans aren’t going to be happy. That reality probably is resting heavy on Florida’s coaches and players this week.