Saturday will play host to a number of special occasions.
A chance to clinch bowl eligibility, the final home game of the season, Senior Day and the program’s annual Saluting Those Who Serve game will all culminate into 60 minutes of football.
Florida (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) hosts the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday afternoon. The meeting marks the first between UF head coach Billy Napier and USC head coach Shane Beamer.
The Gators took big strides against Texas A&M, shutting out the Aggies in the second half on the way to a dominant victory. Florida’s 17-point advantage was its largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent this season.
UF played a clean game — forcing two turnovers while not giving one up against Texas A&M — for the third game in a row. The scoring proficiency, defensive resilience and turnover margin displayed in College Station, Texas, are what Napier intends to build off of versus South Carolina.
“Use some of that momentum,” Napier said. “Certainly need to continue to challenge the accountability.”
Florida’s offense will continue to feature the run game. Heading into this weekend the Gators rank second in the nation in rushing yards per attempt (5.9). UF also has three of the most effective rushers in the SEC; quarterback Anthony Richardson and running backs Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne all rank inside the top 10 among SEC players in yards per carry.
The Gators have a favorable matchup in regards to the strength of their offense this weekend. The Gamecocks give up the fourth-most rushing yards per game (171.8) in the SEC. Florida’s ground attack is also credited to its offensive line play, especially guard O’Cyrus Torrence, who was SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against Texas A&M and is the highest rated offensive lineman in the country according to Pro Football Focus.
“He opens up the holes for me,” Johnson said. “Makes it easy for me. Gets me to the second level. Gets me to the guys I gotta make miss.”
South Carolina’s defense features both veteran and young playmakers. The Gamecocks top defender, Nick Emmanwori, has burst onto the scene this season as a freshman. Despite being recruited as a three-star prospect, Emmanwori currently leads USC in tackles just nine games into his college career.
Linebackers Sherrod Greene and Jordan Burch hold down the interior for South Carolina. The upperclassmen have combined for 83 total tackles on the season.
Offensively, the Gators will need to key in on South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler. The Oklahoma transfer has thrown for 1,837 yards this season — just two yards less than Richardson’s season total — but has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8).
Rattler’s main weapons are running back MarShawn Lloyd and wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. Lloyd leads all USC players in rushing attempts and yards. Wells paces the Gamecocks in receptions and receiving yards.
Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller and safety Trey Dean III will be integral parts to keeping the South Carolina offense contained. The two defensive leaders will also be the only defensive players honored during the Gators’ Senior Day ceremony. Miller, Dean and 16 other Florida players will be recognized before their final game in the Swamp.
“Certainly always an emotional time for those players, in particular,” Napier said. “We've got a group that wants to send this group out the right way.”
UF outside linebacker Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. echoed the sentiments of his coach on how important veteran leaders have been to his career so far.
“The senior class means a lot. Every last one of them,” Powell-Ryland said. “They touched me every way. Coming in, it was no problem. They all welcomed me in.”
Florida’s Senior Day presentation will begin prior to kickoff which is set at 4 p.m. Saturday. Coverage from the Swamp will broadcast on the SEC Network.
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.