Following a terrible loss to Furman, the UCF Knights have to travel to Columbia, S.C. to take on the SEC powerhouse South Carolina Gamecocks.
“South Carolina, they’ve got good athletes. You know they are an SEC team and they’re big, but they are very beatable,” redshirt junior defensive end Luke Adams said. “But the only thing is that we have to come ready to play.”
The Gamecocks lineup like most other SEC schools on paper, sporting a solid defense paired with an explosive offense and loaded with talent overall. However, South Carolina enters Saturday’s contest dropping their last two games to Kentucky and Georgia.
South Carolina is led by Steve Spurrier in his 11th season as the head ball coach and he has never coached the Gamecocks to a losing season. With the second most career wins amongst active coaches, the head ball coach has nothing but respect from George O’Leary.
“I think [Spurrier] is a guy that loves the game of football and I think he’s been good for the college game, he really has been,” O’Leary said. “He does things the right way as far as the programs are concerned and obviously he has a very inventive mind as far as getting things done and scoring points.”
Bo Schneider has had a tough time protecting the ball for the Knights with interceptions in both of the games he has played. That statistic doesn’t bode well for UCF, as the Gamecocks defense has excelled at taking the ball away with five forced turnovers this season.
Junior linebacker Skai Moore accounts for over half of those turnovers, registering three interceptions this season which ties his total for 2014. Moore is tied for eighth all-time in interceptions at South Carolina and he also leads the team in tackles this season (31). Despite the prowess of Moore, the Gamecocks defense has had a rough time disrupting the run and they have been susceptible to big plays for much of the season.
Similar to the Knights, South Carolina lost their starting quarterback to injury and has had a hard time finding a suitable replacement. Junior quarterback Perry Orth was given the nod against Georgia last week, but was noticeably overwhelmed by the Bulldogs and outshined by true freshman QB Lorenzo Nunez.
At a press conference on Tuesday, coach Spurrier announced that Nunez would be the starter going into Saturday’s game against the Knights.
“I think it’s the first true freshman quarterback as a coach I‘ve ever started, but that’s just where we are right now,” said Spurrier according to gamecocksonline.com.
Nunez brings an interesting dynamic to the offense with his running capabilities, picking up 76 yards on the ground against a strong Georgia Bulldog defense last week. The Knights will have to account for that in the defensive game plan if they hope to stifle the true freshman. If UCF’s front 7 struggles trying to get to Nunez and create pressure, they will be in serious danger of giving up huge plays to junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper and senior tight end Jerell Adams.
Preseason first team All-American Pharoh Cooper has made his name known since arriving in Columbia and is the latest stellar wide receiver to pass through South Carolina. Following names like Alshon Jeffrey and Sidney Rice, Cooper has accounted for over half of the Gamecocks wide receiver’s receptions over the first three games of the year.
Cooper also gets involved in almost every aspect of the game for the Gamecocks with 8.1 yards per rush in his career, 3 passing touchdowns and an occasional kick or punt return. UCF’s secondary will have its toughest test to date in stopping the jack of all trades, but Cooper isn’t the only pass catching threat on the Gamecocks.
TE Jerell Adams is another tough tight end that the Knights find themselves having to face this season. Adams is the third Mackey Award watch list member that the UCF defense will look to shut down and they have done an excellent job thus far. The Knights held tight ends Jonnu Smith and Austin Hooper to a combined 4 catches for 29 yards in their games against FIU and Stanford respectively.
Of note in the run game for South Carolina is senior running back Shon Carson who has big play ability (7.4 yards per carry) that is a threat any game that he is in. If Carson finds a hole in the defense, he has a lot of burst and acceleration to break any run into something huge.
UCF goes into Saturday trying to right the ship before conference play and it’s going to take a strong team effort to take down this Power 5 School. The Knights have never won in Columbia, but their last three games against the Gamecocks have been decided by 9 points or fewer.
Photo Credit: Aileen Perilla