Steve Spurrier returns to the Swamp for the third time this season but this one is going to be different. The “Ole Ball Coach” is looking to pull another upset of the Gators and end Florida’s home dominance under Urban Meyer. Both teams have a lot to play for and it should provide some “must see” television on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp.
The Gators do have the SEC East locked up and the Gamecocks should be bowl eligible next week with a win against Middle Tennessee State. With those stakes out of the way we should see a loose fun compelling football game between two conference opponents.
STATISTIC: Florida is 10-0 at home all time versus South Carolina.
What do Florida and South Carolina have to play for this week? Let’s start with UF which is looking to finish the second consecutive season under Urban Meyer unbeaten at home. The Gators are also looking to avenge an ugly loss at Columbia last season in which the Gamecocks cost Florida a shot at Atlanta. On the national scene, Florida must win out to get to the BCS title game, but they also must win out in the regular season to be considered for an at-large berth to the BCS. If UF goes 11-2 with a loss in the title game to Arkansas they may still be more attractive to the Orange Bowl than an 11-1 Auburn team. If the Gators face Auburn then UF most certainly will go to Miami if they lose the SEC as long as they have only two losses. If the Gators finish 10-3 they will probably end up in the Captial One game in Orlando. South Carolina can begin a winning streak against UF and also get bowl eligble. But as Steve Spurrier tries to build this program he is 0-6 since last year’s Florida game against teams with winning records. He needs a big win in year two and it could come Saturday or in the season finale against bitter rival Clemson.
STATISTIC: South Carolina is just tenth in the SEC in scoring offense.
Steve Spurrier is the greatest coach in Florida football history. Anyone who holds the job from here on out will always have his legacy as a measuring stick. In a lot of ways that is fun for the fans, but in some ways I have seen unfair comparisons regarding Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier. Some people want to say “What would Spurrier do with this talent?” Or something like, “When Spurrier was here we blew people out!” You get the drift, but I think people are comparing Meyer to the dominant mid-90’s which is not a true comparision. It took time for Spurrier to get the program on auto-pilot and when he did we all booked our trip to Atlanta in June not November. Urban Meyer’s offense has experienced some second half woes lately and they need to get that fixed but let’s look at the body of work to this point for Meyer versus Steve Spurrier.
STATISTIC: Florida averages nearly one yard per carry more at home than on the road.
— Meyer and Spurrier both inherited talented teams. Heck, Spurrier had Emmitt Smith if he wanted him along with Brad Culpepper, Huey Richardson and Shane Mathews. Meyer inherited Chris Leak, Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald and Dallas Baker. Both programs underachieved prior to the arrival of the coach.
— Spurrier was 19-4 in his first two seasons and won his first 11 games in a row at home. His twelfth game was a memorable victory against FSU 14-9 in 1991.
— Meyer is 17-4 in first two seasons and has five games left to improve on that record. He also has won 11 in a row at home and looks for a memorable victory on Saturday against Spurrier.
— In the first two years under Spurrier his defense gave up 16 points per game while Urban Meyer’s defense these two years have given up an average of 16 points per game.
— There is a slight difference in offense where Spurrier averaged 33 points per game and Meyer is currently averaging 27.5 points per game but it’s not that much different and Meyer’s numbers could go up the next five games.
— The quarterback play has come under great scrutiny the last two seasons for Meyer. Spurrier definitely threw the ball more and Shane Mathews had 51 touchdowns vs. 30 interceptions. That is a +21 margin. Chris Leak so far in two seasons under Meyer has 37 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. That is also a +21 margin!
— But the one statistic that ties these guys together is Spurrier won the SEC in 1991 in just his second season and Urban Meyer is one win away from his first SEC in 2006. Meyer does have and East title and shot at the national title going for him.
I have said this once I will say it again and that is there are many different ways to skin a cat (Okay you PC folks … I really wouldn’t do it, it’s just a saying!) and the bottom line is winning. Meyer’s offense has not been pretty at times but the fact of the matter is he gets the job done. Don’t forget in year three under Spurrier the Gators lost four games and averaged just 22 points per game for the season. Enjoy the ride Gator Fans.
STATISTIC: Florida’s starting offense with Chris Leak has scored just 10 points in the second half of the last four games combined.
Florida’s offense will face a bend but don’t break Gamecock defense this week. South Carolina has solid defensive numbers but they just can’t seem to get people off the field. There are two key areas for the Gators in regards to offensive production. First they must get touchdowns when they are in the red zone. Last week UF had three touchdowns in five trips to the scoring area which is not bad. The Gamecocks want to make you kick field goals and see if they can shorten the game. Much like Vanderbilt, the South Carolina defense has let just one conference (Tennessee) team get into the 30’s against them this season. Their defensive line plays a bunch of guys as evidence by their sack leader being back-up Eric Norwood who is just a freshman. Middle Linebacker Jasper Brinkley and cornerback Fred Bennett are the two best back seven players. Tyrone Nix the defensive coordinator will stunt lineman and blitz in passing situations. The Cocks are average against the run but pretty good against the pass. Most teams have just run it right at them limiting Spurrier’s possessions on offense and playing keep away. Florida needs to establish its inside run game with DeShawn Wynn and get the ball going downhill The key could be left guard Ronnie Wilson who should play for the injured Jim Tartt. He really needs to have a solid game. Percy Harvin is healthy and that means more of him in the run game package, while Jemalle Cornelius is banged up and that could mean true freshman Riley Cooper seeing increased playing time. Chris Leak needs to take what the defense will give him and not get too greedy this week. USC likes to push the receivers outside and force you to throw it deep which can be enticing. I expect the Gators to bring back the shallow cross to take advantage of the underneath man coverage employed by the Gamecocks.
STATISTIC: Florida has given up just nine completions over 25 yards for the season.
Florida’s defense will need to prepare for two quarterbacks this week. There has been talk that the Ole Ball Coach may rotate them every snap just like the FSU game in 1997. I personally think that is a good idea. UF would tee off on Mitchell if he is in the game full time and with the struggles of the offensive line at USC rotating the quarterbacks may keep the defense off balance. Moving the ball has not been the biggest issue for Spurrier but scoring touchdowns and getting plays has been. South Carolina has averaged just 60 plays per game this season and that number has actually been trending upwards. Spurrier is a master on third down and is converting 44% this year which is good considering where he is at. All the focus will be on Sidney Rice and rightfully so but keep an eye on Kenny McKinley at the receiver position. Ryan Smith will draw Rice but Reggie Lewis could have his hands full with McKinley. When Spurrier spreads the field he looks to match McKinley up on a nickel back or linebacker. UF needs to get a push up the middle this week. Last week against Vandy there was not enough push on the front from the middle of the defensive line without Marcus Thomas. The UF defensive ends are un-blockable but if McDonald, Harris and Cohen can create havoc in the middle the Gators can have a big day. Last year Spurrier hurt the UF defense with the draw play. They ran when the Gators thought they were going to throw. It was quite possibly the worst game of Brandon Siler’s career. Siler is injured and may not play so keep an eye on Cory Boyd and Mike Davis in the run game and make sure they don’t run underneath the Gator defense again. Reggie Nelson will key the South Carolina passing game and he must not give up the deep ball. The Gamecocks will try to bait him into coming up across the middle so they can throw over his head towards the middle of the field. See if Nelson bites on a crossing route and USC gets one on one down the field with Rice or McKinley.
STATISTIC:The Gators average 5.1 yards per rush in the first half while netting just 3.8 in the second half of games this season.
Special things to watch for from Spurrier:
On third or fourth and less than one look for the QB sneak
On third or fourth and less than two or so yards expect the toss sweep.
On first and ten after a first down conversion expect the draw.
Inside the five yard line Spurrier will throw a slant (made the wrong check vs. Auburn to fade)
If Reggie Nelson is in the middle of the field expect Spurrier to work outside with curls, flats and fades. He then will try to throw over Nelson by baiting him up.
If Nelson and Joiner are on the hashes he will throw to the middle of the field and to the corner routes.
And don’t forget the trick plays once Spurrier gets to the 30 yard line he likes the reverse pass into the end zone.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT? Florida has shown under Urban Meyer is knows how to win at home. The Gators come back to The Swamp for the first time in a month as SEC East champs and the crowd will be into the game. Keep an eye on time of possession. In the last five games the only one in which UF lost the time battle they lost the game at Auburn. I think Florida will win with defense, running game and field position. The place that became the most feared venue in the 90’s continues to be the difference for Urban Meyer. The game will be tight and Spurrier’s team may score on their opening drive. But the Gators hang on to win 24-20.
KEY PLAYERS FOR UF: Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, Derrick Harvey, Bubba Caldwell, Percy Harvin and Dallas Baker.
Check out our coverage all weekend on Sun Sports. Our coverage includes College Kickoff on Friday at 7p.m., Gator Pre Game Saturday at 2:30 and Gator Post Game immediately following the game. Join me along with Whit Watson, Terry Norvelle, David Steele, Nat Moore, Steve Babik and Todd Lewis. You can also listen to the Brady Ackerman Show weekdays from 7-10 a.m. on ESPN Radio Ocala (AM900) and Gainesville (AM1230).