South Carolina Three Keys: Florida

Three-keys-USC

The South Carolina Gamecocks won the way a Will Muschamp team would generally be expected to win: with outstanding defense. This was the best defensive performance of the Muschamp era in Columbia. The Gamecocks’ defense stood on its head, maxing out by plucking one interception after another against Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. The Gamecocks needed a huge impact play to have any chance to win this game; a pick-six certainly fit that bill, providing seven points on a day when quarterback Ryan Hilinski got injured and had to be replaced by Dakereon Joyner.

South Carolina won mostly because of the defense, but also because Joyner himself avoided the mistakes Fromm made for Georgia. South Carolina avoided imploding and allowed Georgia to make all the mistakes, concluding with Rodrigo Blankenship’s missed field goal in overtime. It is how Muschamp, in his defensive coordinator’s heart of hearts, most naturally envisions winning big games. It is how he made the Sugar Bowl and achieved a top-five December ranking at Florida in 2012.

Now let’s see if USC can stack together consecutive wins over Georgia and Florida. The Gators lost to LSU but put up a good fight. How can the Gamecocks pounce on this opportunity to register a second marquee win?

1 – Give Ryan Hilinski a comfort zone

Ryan Hilinski will play in this game. People inside the program are saying this week how good he looks in practice, reducing concerns about his injury against Georgia. Yet, the coaching staff has to protect Hilinski given the dropoff from him to Joyner. Hilinski needs to stay on the field. He needs to find routes which will protect him.

Three-step dropbacks. Quick slants. Easily completable throws. South Carolina needs to collect a lot of these manageable passes for Hilinski. This is a big part of a winning game scenario against Florida.

2 – Give Hilinski help

South Carolina needs a bunch of “comfort zone” plays for Hilinski in this game. It also will need to make some 50-50 plays and high-leverage plays against a Florida defense which is mad after getting torched by Joe Burrow… and should also play a lot better against an offense which is much more limited than LSU’s offense.

Yes, Hilinski will need to make a lot of easy throws on Saturday, but he will have to complete a handful of risky downfield passes. He will need to trust his receivers to outwork Florida’s corners on contested catches. Let’s not pretend this will be easy for South Carolina. Gamecock receivers will need to help out their QB on a few plays in this contest.

3 – The Trask Stress Test

Is Kyle Trask ready to become a legitimately above-average starting quarterback? He was above average at LSU. Is he ready to become a quarterback who steadily performs at a high level, or will he regress against the Gamecocks? South Carolina stopped Jake Fromm. It needs to take away the run, just as it did against Georgia, and force Trask to beat USC with ambitious throws. If the South Carolina secondary steps up the same way it did against Georgia, this could become another upset win for the Gamecocks.

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

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