Who: No. 9 Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. South Carolina (3-3, 2-2)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Line: Florida by 4 1/2.
Series record: Florida leads 27-9-3.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Gators continued run in the SEC where they enter the last half of the season playing for a spot in the league title game and the College Football Playoff. But the Gamecocks have knocked off one top-10 team in Georgia last week, and are looking for a second one.
USC on a roll defensively
After some early season struggles, South Carolina’s defense has really come on and become a team strength — a dominant one at times, as we saw in last week’s upset of No. 3 Georgia in overtime. Against the potent Bulldogs, the Gamecocks forced four turnovers, had three sacks and held UGA to just 17 points. In the two overtimes, USC did not allow a first down. The previous Saturday, in a 24-7 win over Kentucky, the Gamecocks held the Wildcats to 212 total yards, just 97 passing.
Who starts at QB?
Will Muschamp has always been secretive about injuries. So, has he been sitting on one this week concerning his starting quarterback, true freshman Ryan Hilinski? Hilinski injured his knee in the second half at Georgia last Saturday and did not return. He watched the second half from the sideline with a large brace on his leg, leaving many to speculate that there’s a good chance he would miss today’s game. If that were to happen, Dakereon Joyner, a former wide receiver, would start at QB. Muschamp said Hilinski took reps in practice Wednesday and even though the medical staff had not cleared him yet he would be ready for today’s game. We’ll see. The Gators have prepared for both QBs, something Muschamp probably wanted them to have to do.
Professor Boom, baby
Who would have thought that Muschamp changing his look and going with reading glasses on the sideline would become a popular thing among the South Carolina fan base? But it has. He’s now not just Boom, but professor Boom. Before today’s game, the school is going to hand out a pair of readers to the students, so they’ve really gotten into it. Muschamp went to the glasses two weeks ago because he was having trouble reading his play sheets. Muschamp (2-0) is undefeated with the new look, so it’s going to stay.
The Gamecocks are trying to win three straight SEC games for the first time since midway through the 2017 season and just the second time since the end of 2013. South Carolina has never defeated Top-10 teams in consecutive games.
Two of Florida defensive mainstays in end Jabari Zuniga and linebacker Jonathan Greenard were out for the LSU defeat and could miss the South Carolina game, too. Both are dealing with ankle injuries and Florida coach Dan Mullen said both will be game-time decisions on whether they’ll go against the Gamecocks. Greenard and Zuniga are one-two in sacks for the Gators this season. Greenard has four and Zuniga has three.
Florida coach Dan Mullen says his team is still in control of its championship fate with the next four games against SEC East opponents. After South Carolina and a bye week, the Gators face Georgia in Jacksonville, then are home against Vanderbilt before a contest at surprise East leader Missouri. “We completely control our destiny, so we have to get ready,” he said.
South Carolina put up 142 yards rushing against Georgia, the SEC leader at stopping the run. The Gamecocks, near the bottom of the pack in SEC rushing since Muschamp arrived before the 2016 season, sit fifth in the conference at 193.5 yards a game.
Florida’s offensive line vs. the South Carolina defensive front: Florida’s struggling offensive line is facing yet another big challenge. This challenge is pretty close in degree of difficulty to the one the big guys faced against Auburn two weeks ago. This USC defensive line is comparable to the Tigers, and it’s coming off a dominant performance against Georgia’s offensive line, which is considered by many to be the best in the SEC. Tackles Javon Kinlaw and Rick Standidge are among the best D-linemen in the SEC. The Bulldogs could not handle either one last Saturday, and it’s a big reason the Gamecocks were able to pull off the upset in Athens. As for the Florida offensive line, it’s pretty much been the same old, same old week after week. The Gators get no push in the running game, and then the lack of a running game makes it harder to protect quarterback Kyle Trask. They gave up only two sacks last week at LSU, but this is a much sterner test for the UF offensive line. If the Big Nasties fail to protect Trask, it very well could turn into a long, losing afternoon for the Gators.
• Florida’s defense vs. South Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski. The Gators lead the SEC with 26 sacks and 12 interceptions and Hilinski, a freshman, is coming off a game at Georgia where he sprained his left knee. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said he sat Hilinski the final quarter and overtime because he was worried about his mobility to escape the pass rush. Even a 100-percent healthy Hilinski will have to be mindful with Florida’s front four coming after him.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Florida: QB Kyle Trask has kept the Gators on track after taking over for Feleipe Franks, lost for the season due to injury. Trask has thrown 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
South Carolina: S Israel Mukuamu was named the SEC defensive player of the week after getting three interceptions off Jake Fromm in the Gamecocks 20-17, double OT win over Georgia.
FACTS & FIGURES
Florida has started 6-1 in both of Dan Mullen’s seasons as coach. … South Carolina has won five of its past nine games with Florida after going 4-26 in the teams’ first 30 meetings. … Gamecocks receiver Bryan Edwards has caught a pass in all 44 games he’s played, surpassing the school record of 43 straight set by the late Kenny McKinley. … Florida threw four TD passes (three of them by Trask) in a 42-28 loss at No. 2 LSU, the first time the Gators had that many scoring throws in a game since 2007. … Trask joined Gator greats Tim Tebow and Rex Grossman as the only Florida quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards against a Top 25 opponent since the start of the 2000 season. Trask threw for 310 yards in the LSU loss. … South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who coached Florida from 2011-14, has gone 1-2 against the Gators since taking over South Carolina’s program.
Today’s game questions
• Will the Gators come out sluggish, suffering from the same kind of hangover they had going into last year’s game against Missouri following a loss to Georgia?
• Can Florida’s shaky offensive line protect quarterback Kyle Trask?
• Who wins the battle between the Florida receivers and the South Carolina defensive backs?
• Will tight end Kyle Pitts continue to be a major player in the passing game for the Gators?
• How does the Florida defense respond after the awful performance a week ago at LSU?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Florida 21, South Carolina 18
(Season record: 6-1)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.