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November 14, 2013

Rush's Roundtable

In this special feature, Gamecock Central's football insiders answer five questions about the Gamecocks.

1. Florida's season has been a nightmare for it so far with injuries and now it is in danger of not making a bowl game. Do you believe things are as bad as it seems right now at Florida?

JOSH LOW: It seems like everything that could go wrong from Florida this year has gone wrong. I will say that Florida has lost to some good teams, but on the other side they haven't beaten anybody either. The thing I don't understand is why this offense continues to be as bad as they have been. I understand they have had injuries on that side of the ball, but they have been bad for two years now. With the way they recruit athletes in that state, there is no excuse for the offense to be this bad. I believe changes on the offensive side of the ball during the offseason are going to be a must for Florida. Florida is still a dangerous team though. The defense is still one of the best in the SEC even with all of the injuries they have been through. South Carolina is going to have to play well and not turn the ball over to win Saturday night. As far as Will Muschamp, I think they will give him another year but his seat will be extremely hot next year.

AVERY WILKS: The Gators are in as bad a place as they've ever been in my lifetime, needing to beat either South Carolina or No. 2 Florida State along with Georgia Southern to become bowl eligible. But even with Florida's troubles and injuries, there's no reason to think South Carolina should push the Gators aside with ease. The Gators still have athletes all over the field, they're physical, and their backs are against the wall. They aren't a bad team so much as that the ball just hasn't bounced their way this season. Take last week for instance, when the Gators nearly doubled Vanderbilt's offensive production, but committed four turnovers to hand the Commodores a 17-point win in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. South Carolina can't go in expecting to be that fortunate; the Gamecocks have to go out and play physically to win.

RON AIKEN: It's hard not to see it that way from the vantage point of Columbia. In a way, these are uncharted waters for the Gators, especially given the expectations. Losing at home to Vanderbilt is not where any Florida fan saw themselves at this point in the year, and the amount of injuries is borderline ridiculous. So, the reality is yes, things are as bad as they seem. And, if USC does what it needs Saturday, it's only getting worse. Oh, and waiting on them after that on Nov. 30? No. 2 FSU. Florida has a great chance to finish the year 5-7, and Will Muschamp has a great chance to finish the year as the most uncomfortable man in Gainesville.

CHRIS CLARK: The way you have to evaluate football teams is by record and no doubt this has been a disappointing season for Will Muschamp and the Gators. To be sure, injuries have decimated the Gators. Would the Florida offense be that much better if the offensive line was healthy and if the team had quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones? Most likely, although I still do not think it would be considered an explosive offense. The defense really misses Dominique Easley who was playing as well as anyone in the country when he went down. The seat appears to have warmed up for Muschamp, and for a traditionally strong Florida program to not make a bowl (a strong possibility) would be a bad season. However, much of the injuries have weighed in to the actual results, one would have to think it will at least resonate with athletic director Jeremy Foley at the end of the season. I do think the Gators will have to make substantial improvement next season as long as Muschamp stays and it seems almost a given that there will be changes to the offensive staff.

2. It has been obvious the last two games that Connor Shaw hasn't been his normal self with his mobility under center. Do you expect him to continue to stay in the pocket this week or will we see Shaw start to make more plays with his feet after a week off?

JOSH LOW: I believe the leash will come off Shaw this weekend. If Florida plays man coverage on the outside like they have been doing all season, then Shaw's legs will be needed to make plays. I wouldn't expect him to be running all over the place like he is 100 percent, but I do think he will be close. I think he is going to benefit the most from the bye week.

AVERY WILKS: It was clear how much the sprained knee limited him. Shaw was averaging nearly 57 rushing yards per game before the injury, but was limited to 10 carries for -22 yards in the two games since he went down at Tennessee. South Carolina's offense may be better off if Shaw stuck around in the pocket a little longer on designed passing plays, but with a healthier knee, the senior will have no qualms about taking off running if he's pressured. I get the feeling he'll run as much and as far as his knees will take him, especially if Florida's pass rush gets into a groove.

RON AIKEN: I think Shaw will return to more of a running style with the extra time to heal. I think he's a player also who knows the importance of this game, who remembers how he nearly single-handedly gave it away last year and who will show up and give everything he has. I believe he will show more mobility than he has, and I think that mobility will help the Gamecocks offense.

CHRIS CLARK: We were told in the early part of the week that Shaw looked good in practice and Steve Spurrier has said he could try to play without the knee brace as well. I'm not sure if Shaw will be in preseason form health-wise, but I think it's certainly fair to expect him to be more mobile than he was against Missouri or Mississippi State. USC was poor on third downs against the Bulldogs and not having that extra element of Shaw scrambling to get yardage hurt. With the amount of man coverage Florida is likely to play, Shaw's legs will be needed. I think he runs more in this game, but how much remains to be seen.

3. The Florida offensive line has given up a big number of sacks over the last month. Do you think that trend will continue Saturday night and who on the South Carolina defensive line could have a big night?

JOSH LOW: Florida's offensive line is probably the position that has been affected the most with all of these injuries this season. It seems like they lose someone each week on the offensive line. Florida has given up at least four sacks in each of its last four games, including five against Vanderbilt and six against Missouri. Florida would love to line up and run the ball, but it hasn't been able to do that either because of the offensive line. I would expect a huge night from the South Carolina defensive line and it would be a disappointment if they don't.

AVERY WILKS: With Florida's patchwork offensive line struggling and South Carolina's defensive line peaking, Saturday night could be a perfect storm for the Gamecock pass rush, similar to the blitzkrieg put on by Jadeveon Clowney and company during the 2012 Georgia game. Given Florida's offensive scheme and the injuries to its offensive line, I expect Jadeveon Clowney to have a monster game under the lights. He's turned the corner on this season over the past two weeks, and while he may not rack up a ton of sacks against the Gators, I expect him to sniff out some sweep and end-around plays in the backfield.

RON AIKEN: It's hard not to think that will be the case given their struggles, plus it being on the road, plus the improved play in general of linemen such as Kelcy Quarles and J.T. Surratt.

CHRIS CLARK: Florida's O-line is badly banged up at this point. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries is still out, and the guy that was moved over from right tackle to left to replace him (Tyler Moore) is also out now. JUCO transfer Trenton Brown, in his first year in the program is manning the right tackle spot. Florida has had trouble blocking opposing defensive lines, including Vanderbilt last weekend and USC's defensive line has played well lately. I would expect the Gamecocks to be able to make some big plays against the Gators this weekend.

4. For the most part, the Florida defense has been solid. It was considered the best in the SEC before injuries started to pile on. Where could South Carolina's offense run into trouble against this defense and where could they have some success?

JOSH LOW: Florida's defense is still really good. I think you could make an argument that they are the best in the SEC. If Florida finds a way to win this game, then it will be because of its defense. I think it will have to force multiple turnovers and give the offense really good field position. South Carolina has to protect the ball on offense. That is the biggest key on offense for the Gamecocks. They also don't need to get pass happy. They are getting Brandon Wilds back this week and I would give a heavy dose of Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds Saturday.

AVERY WILKS: If Mike Davis can't get going early against the SEC's second-best rushing defense, South Carolina could have some problems. The Gamecocks have looked their worst on offense when the ball is taken out of Davis' hands - whether by himself or Spurrier - so the sophomore tailback has to come out and string together a few 5- and 6-yard gains to set the tone and get the ball rolling on offense. If the offensive line can make that happen against what coach Shawn Elliott considers the strongest defensive front South Carolina will face all season, the Gamecocks will roll Saturday.

RON AIKEN: They could hit a snag in the passing game and need to be careful not to have a pick to give the Gators momentum. USC's passing game was poor in the loss to Tennessee and below-average against Mississippi State. It needs to improve, but Saturday night may not be the time to try and fix it all at once. Let Mike Davis' success allow the passing game to open up naturally.

CHRIS CLARK: Florida is still statistically a good defense, ranking near the top of the country in scoring defense and total defense (yards allowed). Vanderbilt had less than 200 yards but over 30 points, in part due to poor field position by the Gators offense. USC could do itself a big favor on Saturday by stifling a struggling Gator offense and getting into some favorable field position matchups. UF's defense still has speed and talent, so USC needs to take what the defense gives it and not turn the ball over. Mike Davis will be extra motivated in this game and in one stretch this season the Gators gave up three straight 100-yard rushers, so it can be done.

5. The Georgia-Auburn game will either be over or close to over when South Carolina is ready to kickoff Saturday night. Do you think the result of that game could have any impact on the Gamecocks this weekend?

JOSH LOW: I think it could. What is going to be interesting is how long the Auburn/UGA game lasts. That game could realistically still be going on when South Carolina kicks off. I'm sure word will get down to the sideline and the players will know the outcome of that game at some point. If Auburn wins, then I'm sure the atmosphere will only get better inside the stadium. If Georgia wins, then it could take some life out of the place. That is only natural.

AVERY WILKS: Several players said this week in practice that they won't let the outcome of the game affect their play, with some saying they'll try to avoid seeing or hearing about the game altogether. While focusing on the task at hand is always a plus, it's difficult to believe they'll be able to forget about the Auburn-Georgia game altogether, especially considering the scoreboard at Williams-Brice Stadium will display the game when the gates open Saturday. I don't think the game will have a tremendous impact on South Carolina's players either way, but it will affect the type of home field advantage the Gamecocks will enjoy. An Auburn win could make for an electric atmosphere when the teams kickoff at 7 p.m., while a Georgia victory could be just as deflating.

RON AIKEN: Yes. It will be either a huge bummer or a tremendous lift. No way it's not, no matter how much coach-speak you want to throw at it. The outcome makes the game either supremely important or almost irrelevamt, and there's no way to talk around that.

CHRIS CLARK: USC's team will likely be focused on beating the Gators because regardless of what Auburn does against the Dawgs, USC has to win this game to have any chance. The Auburn game will be going on and could be in the final minutes before kickoff depending on how it goes and no doubt some of the players could become aware of what is going on. If it looks good for the Tigers, it could provide even more motivation for the team.

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