Granted, this season’s schedule includes fixtures only against SEC opponents due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Florida’s heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt in double overtime last weekend marked the first time since 2018 that coach Becky Burleigh’s team dropped back-to-back conference games.
UF currently sits at the bottom of the SEC East halfway through the truncated campaign. And it’s next opponent is less than ideal for a team looking to climb the division standings.
The Gators are going on the road for just the second time this season to take on No. 11 South Carolina at Stone Stadium at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Here are two things Florida (1-2-1) must do in order to pull off an upset against the Gamecocks (4-1-0), its fourth top-15 opponent of the year:
Ride the Rose
Forward Deanne Rose has endured a difficult start to her senior campaign,
She started in UF’s 1-1 draw against then-No. 8 Georgia in the season opener, notching her team’s only goal of the game with a right-footed finish in the opening half.
However, the Canadian international suffered a hamstring injury the following week that kept her out of Florida’s next two contests. Rose returned to action last Sunday, but only saw the field for 13 of the possible 103 minutes in UF’s 2-1 defeat to Vandy in double overtime.
The Gators are limiting Rose’s playing time to avoid another setback, seeing as she came off the bench against the Commodores. But Florida will need Rose in her usual starting role against South Carolina to maximize its chances of stealing three points from the SEC East frontrunners.
Rose can knock opposing defenders off-balance with her blend of speed and strength. And she likes to get her teammates involved in the attack. She was UF’s second-leading scorer last season with six goals to go along with two assists.
Cancel out Chang
The Gamecocks are coming off an impressive 2-1 victory over then-No. 3 Arkansas last Sunday, which saw midfielder Samantha Chang score the game-winning goal in the 71st minute.
Chang’s performance against the Razorbacks did not go unnoticed, as the redshirt sophomore racked up four weekly honors: United Soccer Coaches National Player of the Week, TopDrawerSoccer National Player of the Week, College Soccer News Team of the Week and SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Although Chang’s goal against Arkansas was her first of the season, it combined with her contributions from last year are enough to warrant special attention from the Gators.
The 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team selection recorded two goals and four assists for eight points. Her 18 shots were tied for sixth-most among USC players, and her 12 shots on target were good enough for fifth.
Chang’s ambition going forward could spell trouble for Florida, which is seeking its first win since a 2-1 result against then-No. 15 Alabama on Oct. 4.
Contact Bryan Matamoros at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @bryan_2712.