It would be no surprise to anyone in attendance or watching the live broadcast on CBS if Michael Buffer were to introduce the starting lineups for Saturday’s heavy weight bout between the Florida Gators and the South Carolina Gamecocks. After all they are both top ten teams and both have a legitimate shot at playing for a BCS title. Of course, this matchup would seem even bigger had USC not lost a close one last Saturday to the LSU Tigers. Be that as it may, the winner of this game has the inside track to an SEC East title with Georgia still left to play and the loser? Well, they’re a safe bet to play a Big Ten team in Tampa come January 1.
The tale of the tape for Saturday’s matchup shows two evenly matched teams with very similar styles. South Carolina is a ground oriented team who rely’s on a hard- nosed one-cut running back with speed to get outside, agility to cut to the back side, and the strength to move the piles in Marcus Lattimore. Similarly, Florida has relied on the tough inside running of Mike Gillislee who also has good speed, strength, and agility. Gillislee and Lattimore rank 2nd and 4th respectively in rushing in the conference halfway through the season.
Both offenses are led by young athletic quarterbacks who can beat you with their legs as well as their arms. Connor Shaw has completed 69% of his passes on the season for 910 yards while rushing for 280 yards. Similarly, Jeff Driskel has completed 66% of his passes for 836 yards while adding 326 yards on the ground. Both guys are steady, heady performers who limit mistakes and remain relatively unfazed through the ebbs and flows of the game. While still young both have shown a maturity in leadership that belies their age and experience.
Defensively, both teams have big strong lines featuring future NFL stars in Jadeveon Clowney for Carolina, and Shariff Floyd and Dominique Easley for Florida. Both lines are tough inside run stuffers and great pass rushers with Florida having a little edge in the run game while Carolina may be a step ahead in the pass rush. At corner both teams have the size and speed to matchup in man-to-man coverage and are great tacklers in run support.
Special teams are indeed special for both schools as Florida features perhaps the best punter/kicker combo in the nation in Kyle Christy who leads the conference in punting with a 46.4 yard average and Caleb Sturgis whose only two misses on the season were partially blocked and repeatedly booms his kickoffs out of the endzone. South Carolina features the most exciting if not the straight out best punt returner in the nation in Ace Sanders.
I can hear Michael Buffer now, “In this corner wearing maroon trunks, white shirt, and maroon visor, the Ole Ball Coach Steve Spurrier, former heisman trophy winning quarterback and national championship winning coach for the Florida Gators. Currently the Head Ball Coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks. And in this corner in the blue trunks and orange trim the Old Bulldog Will Muschamp, formerly the defensive coordinator for the Texas Longhorns and bearing a national championship ring from the 2003 LSU team. Currently the Head Coach for your Florida Gators. Let’s get ready to rumble…” Fortunately the two coaches won’t be duking it out this Saturday, or at least let’s hope not, but their respective teams will be. At stake is heavyweight status in the SEC East and with a win over Georgia a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a chance to play for the BCS title in January. The loser gets to play out the string and think about what might have been.
So tune in Saturday at 2:30 central time on CBS to see the tangle of the Beasts of the East and Let’s Get Ready to Rumble…