Will Muschamp, Kyle Trask and why Florida should cruise to a win versus South Carolina – Read and Reaction
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Florida goes on the road for a second week in a row licking its wounds after a loss to LSU.
South Carolina welcomes the Gators to Columbia after a rousing win over Georgia.
If that was all you knew about these two teams, you might think that Florida comes into the game at a significant disadvantage. But you might have said the same thing after Auburn dismantled Mississippi State and came to the Swamp.
The reality is that every week in the SEC is dictated by matchups, both because every team is different and because six or seven games in, each team is dealing with injuries.
For Florida, wide receiver Kadarius Toney won’t play and defensive ends Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard will likely be significantly limited if they can get onto the field.
But South Carolina is dealing with its own injury issues as well. Starting QB Jake Bentley was knocked out for the season in the opener against North Carolina and backup Ryan Hilinski sprained his knee last week against Georgia.
The question then is with the players who will be on the field, who wins the matchups.
Hilinski is much more of a pocket passer (14 rush, -12 yards) than his backup Dakereon Joyner (16 rush, 72 yards). But that doesn’t mean we should confuse him with Peyton Manning.
In short spurts, Hilinski has been impressive. But overall, he’s been significantly below average throwing the ball.
His overall passer rating of 123.9 is pretty unimpressive, as is his yards above replacement (YAR) of -1.36. Those who saw Hilinski’s first half against Alabama on CBS may be inclined to disagree, but even in that game, he had to throw 57 passes to get to his 324 yards.
The reality is that any offense that only averages six yards per attempt through the air is going to be pretty pedestrian, and that’s exactly what we see when looking at the overall statistics for South Carolina.
South Carolina is 108th against FBS opponents in yards per play. That is tied directly to its ranking in passing efficiency. Conversely, Florida ranks 46th against FBS opponents in yards per play, much of that because of Kyle Trask’s efficiency through the air (8.8 yards per attempt).
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp may be playing games insisting that Hilinski will be ready to go after spraining his knee, but it doesn’t really matter. The truth is that Joyner is probably just as good of an option as Hilinski.
If some announcer tries to tell you that South Carolina is going to have to rely on its ground game and cites the Gamecocks 5.7 yards per attempt average, just remember that 493 of those yards came against Charleston Southern.
Just like Muschamp’s time at Florida, he has to rely on his defense because his offense just isn’t very good.
Before last week, I would have told you that Florida’s defense was head and shoulders above South Carolina’s.
But then the Gators got torched by LSU and South Carolina went on the road and limited Georgia.
But Ryan Hilinski isn’t Joe Burrow, or even Jake Bentley.
Last season, the Gators defense struggled mostly against experienced QBs with a track record of being above average. That culminated in a three-game stretch against Georgia (Fromm), Missouri (Lock) and South Carolina (Bentley). The Gators went 1-2 in that stretch and were pretty lucky to get the one.
This year, Florida’s defense has kept every QB to a negative YAR except for Burrow, who absolutely demolished them.
But I think that’s really the point here. The Gators struggle against QBs who have experience and can find mismatches against Grantham’s defense. His ability to “hide the fourth rusher” works against young or inexperienced QBs and can hide talent deficits that can’t be hidden when a more experienced QB is behind center.
The Gators do have 26 sacks this year, but seven of those are from Zuniga and Greenard. Additionally, the Gators only have 44 tackles for loss and so aren’t getting into the backfield very much when they aren’t sacking the QB.
Compare that to South Carolina. The Gamecocks have 41 tackles for loss but only 15 sacks. This indicates that South Carolina is more effective at stopping the run than the pass.
That’s actually what we see for both teams. The defenses are virtually identical, with South Carolina giving up a little bit less on the ground but both of them basically being identical in yards per play.
But Florida’s offensive line has been really bad in the run game this year. Combine that with South Carolina relying heavily on senior Javon Kinlaw (5 sacks), and I do think the Gamecocks have a slight advantage here.
Advantage: South Carolina
This category is why this game is expected to be a pretty solid Gators win (Florida is favored by 5 points).
I’ve written extensively about how Dan Mullen makes the most out of the matchup problems that his players create. We saw it this past week against LSU as tight end Kyle Pitts ran wild.
But what Mullen also does is win games he’s supposed to win.
You can’t say the same for Will Muschamp.
According to recruiting rankings, South Carolina has had more talent than three FBS opponents so far and have gone 1-2. This was also a problem at Florida, as Muschamp would underperform against teams less talented than his Gators teams, culminating in an embarrassing loss to Georgia Southern.
But perhaps the thing that drove people like me crazy about Muschamp was how he consistently bungled late-game situations. The good news is that he hasn’t gotten any better at South Carolina.
Lots of people got on Muschamp for trying a 57-yard field goal and giving Georgia good field position with more than a minute left in the game. But it was the first down play on that series prior to the field goal that I think points towards Muschamp’s issues.
This looks like a relatively non-descript play. But notice that the clock stops at 1:24. That’s because Muschamp called a timeout. This is idiotic.
It’s idiotic because if South Carolina didn’t get the first down (it didn’t), a couple of incompletions would give Georgia time to drive down the field. If – conversely – the Gamecocks had let the clock run down to below a minute, the 57-yard field goal attempt would have held considerably less risk.
Amazingly, Muschamp had the opportunity again after Joyner was tackled on a scramble to run the clock, yet South Carolina snapped the ball on third down with 28 seconds left on the play clock.
Finally, after getting tackled two-yards short of the first down marker on third down, Georgia called timeout with 45 seconds to go. Had Muschamp run the clock on either of the first two plays, he’s kicking the field goal with 10 seconds left rather than 45.
This is why he loses close games.
The reality is that these teams are pretty close on defense but Florida is significantly better on offense.
If the Gamecocks’ defense struggled against the run and was stout against the pass, maybe you might give them a chance to stop Florida. But they’re worse against the pass than the run, which plays right into Florida’s hands as the Gators are far better through the air than on the ground.
Florida’s injuries on the defensive line may give South Carolina’s QBs a chance, but it’s not as if South Carolina has been good enough on the ground to give its QBs a ton of support. And there isn’t anything in the profile of Ryan Hilinski or Dakereon Joyner to suggest that they can compete even close to the level of Kyle Trask.
And then you get to the coaches.
Mullen has proven he’s a better coach over an extended period of time. Muschamp has a 53-41 (.562) career record at Florida and South Carolina. Not only is that in the easier East Division, but it also is 4 years at Florida where he had a significant talent advantage.
Compare that to Mullen’s 85-49 (.634) record and things become clear. Mullen mostly did that in the West Division with a team that rarely had a talent advantage. Now that he has one, he is winning 80 percent of the time at Florida.
Florida’s defense is susceptible to big plays because of the injuries on the defensive line and its inability to pressure the QB. But South Carolina hasn’t generated a whole lot of big plays.
Conversely, South Carolina was able to exploit a lack of depth at wide receiver against Georgia. That isn’t going to be an issue for Florida.
Florida (-5) wins, 34-17.
Picks thus far: 7-0, 3-3-1 ATS