The South Carolina State Fair is in Columbia this week across the street from Williams-Brice Stadium.
People will naturally flock to the skyscraping rides, eager for cheap thrills and motion sickness, and will stumble upon classic carnival games. Those games will appear simple to play and easy to win, but they are a trap.
Balloon dart throws are usually rigged with dull darts, and free throw shots are typically made impossible by oval-shaped basketball rims.
The Gators find themselves in a similar predicament.
With their third potential top-10 bout in four games fast approaching on Nov. 2, it’s easy to look at the matchup with the Gamecocks as easy to win. But like the carnival games across the street, it’s also a trap.
On paper, UF’s matchup with South Carolina appears as easy as the balloon dart throw. But the dull dart luring Florida into a false sense of security comes in the name of Dakereon Joyner, the redshirt freshman quarterback who began the season third on the depth chart and entered Saturday’s game against then-No. 3 Georgia in the third quarter. He totaled 67 yards without a turnover in the defensive struggle to help secure South Carolina’s first win against a ranked team since Tennessee in 2016.
UF appears to have an easy free throw shot. But it may not see the oval-shaped rim that is the Gamecocks defense, which held the Bulldogs to their lowest point total of the season and intercepted quarterback Jake Fromm three times, more than he had thrown in his last 12 games combined dating back to last season.
To win, Florida’s own defense will need to show up.
In all six of UF’s wins, the defense held opposing offenses to 9.5 points per game and 276.3 total yards a game. But LSU’s 511 yards and 42 points scored — including three rushing touchdowns — resulted in the team’s first loss of 2019.
Florida can still win the SEC East if it wins out, but the defense will need to be better if it hopes to achieve that goal with just five games left.
The most glaring area of improvement will need to be stopping the run game. Though Florida’s run defense was lacking against the Tigers, it was without two of its top playmakers — edge rusher Jonathan Greenard and defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga — to plug the holes for much of the contest.
“It affects us when we’re missing somebody who makes a difference on the team,” defensive lineman Adam Shuler said Monday. "But we believe in the next man. We got players and guys who can ball, so you got to be ready when your name is called."
Having both Greenard and Zuniga back would restore aggression and a push at the line that the Gators lacked against LSU. However, coach Dan Mullen was unsure after the game if either will be ready to go against the Gamecocks.
The trouble against the passing game last week, though, was an expected issue.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow — who entered the contest first in the SEC in passing yards (1,864) and touchdowns (22) — threw just three incompletions and passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
Gamecocks' starting quarterback Ryan Hilinski suffered a sprained knee against Georgia, thrusting Joyner into the game, but he is expected to return for Saturday's game.
UF players said Monday they would prepare for both as a precaution, though neither seems to pose the issues Burrow created, and the Gators are confident that whoever South Carolina puts on the field, they'll be ready.
"Well, we know that one quarterback (Joyner) is not really a quarterback, so they're going to try to run the ball," safety Shawn Davis said, "But their main quarterback, he's going to try to pass and run the ball, so just prepare the same way. That's it."
Whatever happens come Saturday, Florida must be wary of any traps set by the carny draped in garnet and black with the name badge reading "Will Muschamp."
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]