No. 12 Gamecocks have tough test in surging UCF
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has fond memories of the state of Florida.
At the University of Florida he arguably set the standard in a state that at the time also included coaches like Bobby Bowden.
After a brief NFL stint, Spurrier returned to the college ranks in 2005 with South Carolina and played his first game that year against a Sunshine State team, thumping a UCF program that was then not even a blip on college football’s national stage.
Eight years later no one is surprised with what Spurrier has done with the No. 12 Gamecocks (2-1). But a 3-0 start and upset win over Penn State last week puts the Knights in position to garner some of that elusive national attention.
Spurrier recognizes the challenge and he isn’t downplaying this road game. He expects to be a hostile environment for the Knights’ first sellout since 2011.
“Oh yeah, they know scenario. They know the circumstances that we’re in,” Spurrier said. “They know it’s going to be loud and it’s an opportunity for South Carolina to take our football show on the road and see what we can do. Hopefully we can play very well. It’s the opportunity that’s out there for us.”
UCF is just 1-24 all-time against ranked teams and 2-14 opposite Southeastern Conference opponents. The Knights led Missouri at home last season before faltering late.
It’s why UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer said no one in their locker room needs extra incentive.
“It’s what we worked so hard for during the summer — winning these non-conference games,” Plummer said. “I think you can see from our non-conference schedule we’ve scheduled some good opponents. We’re going to go out there and see how we match up with some of the best.”
Though he’s had forgettable moments during his time in Columbia, Gamecocks senior quarterback Connor Shaw is playing some of his best football. He’s thrown six touchdowns without an interception so far and is also completing 65 percent of his passes.
A win would be his 20th as a starter.
“Yeah, I do feel like I’m playing well, probably better than I have in the past,” Shaw said. “I’m playing smart, I’m not forcing things, (and) I’m taking what the defense is giving me.”
UCF’s defense is giving just 12.7 points per game and Knights coach George O’Leary said slippage this week isn’t an option against a Spurrier offense and quarterback that’s clicking like that.
“You are who you are, as far as the game’s concerned,” O’Leary said. “You want to be at your best. And we’re playing a very good football team. And we’re gonna have to play that way to get some things done.”
Here are five key things to watch for during Saturday’s game:
UCF’S OFFENSIVE LINE. The Knights didn’t surrender a sack against Penn State despite being without starting tackle Torrian Wilson (knee). He’s back this week, but the Knights are still working with two new starters up front. And durability could be an issue for Wilson, who will see lots of Gamecocks DE Jadeveon Clowney.
PASSING GAMES. Bortles is the fifth-rated passer in the nation and South Carolina’s defense hasn’t been stingy in that department, ranked 58th nationally and surrendering 216 yards per game. The Knights are only giving up 173 yards through the air, but Shaw will be the best they’ve seen.
GROUND ATTACK: Both the Gamecocks and Knights have capable running backs. UCF’s Storm Johnson has taken a lot of pressure of Bortles, averaging 101 yards per game to go along with six touchdowns. South Carolina’s Mike Davis is fourth in the SEC and 21st in the country averaging 113 yards per game, with three rushing touchdowns.
CLOWNEY’S FRIENDS: It’s no secret teams have been scheming to avoid Clowney, so he may need assistance from his teammates to help put pressure on Bortles. Gamecocks DT Kelcy Quarles is a candidate with two sacks this season.
WHO WILL START FAST? South Carolina has jumped on opponents scoring 72 of its 92 points this season by halftime. UCF has been just as impressive out of the gate, scoring 69 of its 110 points in the first half.
AP sports writer Peter Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C. contributed to this report
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