GAME NOTES: The 12th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks venture to Orlando on Saturday afternoon for a tricky road test against the undefeated UCF Knights.
After taking care of business in its season opener versus North Carolina (27-10), South Carolina dropped a 41-30 decision against SEC East rival Georgia the next week and now has an uphill battle in terms of representing the East Division in the conference championship game. The Gamecocks got back on the winning track on Sept. 14 at home against league rival Vanderbilt, 35-25.
The Gamecocks used their bye week to prepare for UCF, which head coach Steve Spurrier certainly isn't taking lightly.
"They're a very good team," Steve Spurrier said. "They sort of clobbered that Akron team, a team that almost beat Michigan at the Big House. Coach O'Leary has been there quite a while, excellent coach, excellent assistants. So it's going to be a tough game."
UCF has won each of its first three games of the season for its best start since beginning the 1988 campaign 5-0. The Knights went into Happy Valley on Sept. 14 and held off the Penn State Nittany Lions, 34-31.
"Give credit to our players," UCF head coach George O'Leary said following his team's latest victory. "We came to win a game and got a great win. I told them before the game, they'll feel either great joy or great sadness and they're feeling great joy right now."
South Carolina is 3-0 all-time versus UCF, registering wins in 1996, 1997 and 2005.
The Gamecocks may not have the SEC's most potent offense, but they are right up there as one of the most efficient. The unit averages 30.7 ppg behind 479.7 ypg, and it converts 50 percent of its third-down attempts.
Connor Shaw calls the shots under center. Not only has he been outstanding passing the ball this season (.649 completion percentage, 661 yards, six TDs, zero INTs), but he's also second on the team in rushing with 202 yards. The senior was nearly flawless in the win over Vanderbilt with 368 total yards and three scores.
"I thought he had a heck of a game," Spurrier said. "He's really a good passer. This might have been the best we've ever look on offense since I've been here."
Mike Davis has taken over as the lead tailback and has shined through three games, gaining 341 yards (7.6 ypc) while scoring three touchdowns. He is also an important factor in the passing game with seven receptions for 116 yards.
Nick Jones (130 yards) leads the squad with 11 catches and three receiving touchdowns. Shaq Roland (161 yards, TD) and Bruce Ellington (141 yards, TD) have also played well.
South Carolina has made a name for itself in recent years for having one of the best defenses in the nation, but this season the unit has disappointed by allowing more than 25 points per game.
Jadeveon Clowney is off to a relatively slow start with 3.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks, although he has added three QB hurries and a forced fumble. T.J. Gurley leads the team with 21 tackles, and Jimmy Legree (16 tackles, 4.0 TFL) has the only interception.
The UCF offense (36.7 ppg, 457.7 ypg) is off to the best start in program history, scoring at least 30 points in each of the first three games for the first time.
The play of Blake Bortles under center is a big reason for the Knights' success. He's completing greater than 71 percent of his passes for 816 yards with seven touchdowns to just one pick, including a 288-yard, three-TD performance against PSU.
"We had a good plan and we executed it," Bortles said. "We blocked up front, the receivers ran good routes and I just had to distribute the ball to the right places."
Storm Johnson has been strong at running back, gaining 305 yards on 55 carries while already crossing into the end zone six times.
J.J. Worton has been Bortles most trusted receiver in the early going with 12 receptions for 175 yards and three scores. Rannell Hall (11 receptions, 212 yards, TD) and Breshad Perriman (eight receptions, 181 yards, TD) have both been great deep threats.
On top of the fast start offensively, the Knights have also played exceptionally well on defense, holding opposing teams to just 12.7 ppg and less than 300 total yards per contest.
Terrance Plummer is one of the American Athletic Conference's top tacklers with 28 stops, with three of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Troy Gray has 15 tackles and a interception, while Deion Green has logged two of the team's four sacks.
Although this South Carolina team is battled-tested in the nation's most difficult conference, this non-league showdown will be far from a walk in the park, as UCF sports dangerous playmakers on both sides of the ball. Still, the Knights have yet to face a team of the Gamecocks' caliber, and Spurrier's defense will cause Bortles to make a few mistakes that'll be the difference in the game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Carolina 27, UCF 21