South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Central Florida Knights: Complete Game Preview
Upset alert! Upset alert!
You can bet the cry will go out among some college football sages who think the Gamecocks will be prime for an upset playing at unbeaten Central Florida.
It's easy to understand the logic.
The Knights have knocked off Akron 38-7, which in turn almost beat Michigan. Then UCF routinely trounced Florida International 38-0 and followed up with a 34-31 victory at Penn State.
Even though the victory carries an asterisk (*probation-ravaged Penn State), any victory over the Nittany Lions at their place is another notch in the belt for Central Florida, a program carrying big-time aspirations.
South Carolina is 2-1 following a season-opening victory over North Carolina, a 41-30 loss at Georgia and a 35-25 home victory against Vanderbilt.
Both teams enter following an off week.
Who: South Carolina (2-1) at Central Florida (3-0)
When: 12 p.m. ET, Saturday
Where: Bright House Networks Stadium
Series history: South Carolina leads 3-0
Keys to Victory for South Carolina
Despite playing on the road against a dangerous opponent, the Gamecocks should be fine as long as they keep their composure.
That all starts with Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw, who has normally done an excellent job not only statistically but as a leader.
Shaw has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for six touchdowns without an interception. He needs to continue with his pattern of excellent decision making and maintaining calm in the face of adversity.
That was never more evident than in the Gamecocks' loss at Georgia, where Shaw rallied the Gamecocks from deficit after deficit in the face of a hostile crowd.
Georgia eventually won, but it was more because the Bulldogs offense was unstoppable.
Composure may be a bit more of an issue on defense, where the Gamecocks have no acknowledged leader who can rally the troops when times get tough.
Keys to Victory for Central Florida
Just as composure will be a big factor for the Gamecocks, the same holds true for Central Florida.
Emotions will be running high for the Knights, who have a chance to knock off a nationally-ranked opponent at home on national television.
Bortles needs to keep a cool hand at the helm to give the Knights a chance at the upset.
Rest assured veteran coach George O'Leary will do his part to keep his team focused.
Defensively, Central Florida will need to make some stops against a South Carolina offense that has been very efficient through the first three games.
Players to Watch for South Carolina
Look for tailback Mike Davis to get the ball a lot, and that's who the Knights will likely be keying on.
But wide receiver Bruce Ellington enters the game as the Gamecocks' "stealth bomber."
Hampered by a hamstring injury, Ellington wasn't a factor in South Carolina's first two games, but he bounced back last week against Vanderbilt with a single-game, career-high eight receptions.
His performance was more or less lost in the shuffle.
Now completely healthy, he could give the Knights fits. Ellington also factors on special teams in the return game.
As always, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the Gamecocks' player to watch on defense.
Players to Watch for Central Florida
Central Florida likely hopes to beat South Carolina with the passing game, but if tailback Storm Johnson can get rolling, that should loosen things up for the Knights and make the task a lot easier.
Johnson has rushed for 322 yards and six touchdowns on 55 carries.
But it's the Knight's ability to "pitch and catch," as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier calls it, that is the strength of the offense.
JJ Worton (12 receptions for 175 yards and three touchdowns), Rannell Hall (11 catches for 212 yards and one touchdown) and Breshad Perriman (eight catches for 181 yards and one touchdown) are the big three for the Knights.
Central Florida's receivers are averaging 15.7 yards per catch.
Defensively, middle linebacker Terrance Plummer has been the Knights' leading player with a team-leading 28 tackles, including three for loss.
What They're Saying
Here's how Central Florida coach George O'Leary sees the game setting up for the Knights:
"They (his players) understand it's a big game," O'Leary said at his weekly press conference, available on video on the UCF official athletic website. "The biggest thing is not who it is, it's national TV. The kids understand that. They understand it very well. And both teams understand that because you're sending your resume out. And you are who you are. You want to be at your best. We're playing a very, very good football team and we're going to have to play that way to get some things done."
Meanwhile, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is confident his team won't take Central Florida lightly on Saturday when the Gamecocks play the Knights in Orlando, Fla.
"They know the scenario," Spurrier said. "They know the circumstances that we're in. 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."
The upset alert is out there for this one, but Central Florida will have to come up with the game of its life to beat the Gamecocks, who are simply the more talented team by far.
That doesn't mean that the Knights won't put a scare into South Carolina early, but the fact of the matter is that Steve Spurrier-coached teams just don't lose these types of games.
Under Spurrier, the Gamecocks are 32-7 in non-conference games.
South Carolina 42, Central Florida 24.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand.
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