Florida Three Keys: South Carolina


This is it. It’s not necessarily the biggest game of Florida’s season, but it might be the turning point in the season, the moment when we learned whether the Gators were ready to become the team they were always capable of becoming, or they were the mirage seen in recent years under Dan Mullen and Jim McElwain, when they couldn’t quite get over the hump.

By Matt Zemek

Only one time this decade has a Florida team truly remained able to rise above the challenges of a full regular season: The 2012 team coached by Will Muschamp was able to run the race and post an 11-1 record in spite of its limitations.

With Georgia looming in a few weeks, Florida has to pass this key test first. If it can win in South Carolina and avoid a post-LSU letdown, we might gain evidence that the 2019 Gators are ready for an 11-1 encore and a berth in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama or LSU.

On the other hand, if the Gators falter, they might wind up at 9-3 again and fall short in their attempt to climb to a higher plateau.

Georgia is a huge game, but this contest in Columbia might reveal more about what the Gators are made of.

1 – No letdown

The LSU game was a great college football game for three quarters. Florida played its three best quarters of the season. LSU is simply really damn good. I don’t have a Heisman Trophy ballot, but if I did, Joe Burrow would be No. 1 at the present moment. He has been that special in 2019. Florida was beaten by a great player leading a tremendous offense.

Florida can’t allow itself to be beaten twice by LSU. Once was enough, thank you very much.

The Gators have to mentally reset. If they don’t do that, the tactics won’t matter against the Gamecocks, who just upset Georgia on the road.

2 – Don’t do what Jake Fromm did against South Carolina

It is an obvious thing, but sometimes the obvious things are the necessary game keys. This is one such example.

Let’s put a finer point on this game key, though: Avoiding interceptions is not really what we are talking about – not entirely, anyway. The bigger point to stress about avoiding a Jake Fromm-like day is that South Carolina could not have beaten Georgia without a pick-six. Georgia gift-wrapped seven points to an opponent playing with a backup quarterback.

It’s not just the turnovers; it’s giving South Carolina free points. If Florida gives the Gamecocks zero free points, it will win. Period. Kyle Trask has his marching orders.

3 – The Pitts is great

“The pits” are bad, but “the Pitts” is great. Kyle Pitts was excellent against LSU. Florida pushed the ball farther downfield on passing routes, and Dan Mullen schemed Pitts open, just as he did with other Florida pass catchers.

Florida’s big forward step on offense against LSU was that it threw the ball more vertically, but not at the expense of Trask holding the ball too long in the pocket. Releases were quick, but Florida was able to get more 15- and 20-yard gains, and fewer short gains. Pitts was a big part of this. If he remains a weapon, he will be a problem for Georgia on Nov. 2. UF needs to make Georgia fear its offense, so a good performance against the Gamecocks serves a purpose beyond winning one game on one day.

Saturday’s game kicks off at Noon ET. Watch on the ESPN Network.

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