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Game Preview: South Carolina vs. Central Florida

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Fans are streaming into the stadium in Orlando for the noon kickoff between UCF and USC. Fans are streaming into the stadium in Orlando for the noon kickoff between UCF and USC.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Game Preview:

How do you define "clutch"? Well, there's the easy way of doing it by looking up the word in the dictionary, so let's go that route.

Clutch (v): to seize with or as with the hands or claws.

Well, that's not quite what we're looking for when it comes to football, so let's look again.

Clutch (adj): done or accomplished in a critical situation.

That's more like it. But is "clutch" something that can be defined in a statistical sense? ESPN sure thinks so. To the Four Letter Network, "clutch" is a series of stats they've added, subtracted, multiplied, and even divided into a super stat called "total quarterback rating," or Total QBR.

Total QBR combines a quarterback's scoring ability, win probability, dividing credit, and yes, "clutchness".

So, taking a look at ESPN's statistical analysis, who's more "clutch" than current Heisman Trophy contenders Aaron Murray, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tajh Boyd?

That'd be Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles – the South Carolina defensive line's next moving target.

The No. 12 Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 SEC) head to Orlando Saturday to play the Central Florida Knights (3-0, 0-0 AAC) for a bit of an unusual road test.

Central Florida fans are already considering to be the biggest home game ever. And who can blame them for believing that? The Knights are coming off one of the biggest road wins in school history.

As South Carolina escaped an at-home scare from Vanderbilt two weeks ago, the Knights were playing tough against the Big Ten's Nittany Lions at Happy Valley. By the time it was over, the Central Florida upset Penn State, 34-31.

Coach Steve Spurrier is definitely not overlooking this scrappy team, either.

"They have an opportunity, if they win, to jump into the top 25 and maybe beat every team on their schedule. They're that a good a team," said Spurrier. "It's a huge game for all of us. It should be something special."

Spurrier and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott both know a successful game for South Carolina depends on keeping the line's steady production at the same level. So far this season, Elliott's unit has only given up three sacks.

There is even a bit of a controversy at who will start at center. Starter Cody Waldrop played in the season opener against North Carolina, but has been sidelined due to a foot injury. In his stead, freshman Clayton Stadnik stepped up, and even won SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for the game against Vanderbilt.

So who will start on Saturday?

"I don't know that there could be a rotation," said Elliott.  "Fortunately, we've got two good centers we can win with. Cody started today's practice. We'll see. You'll find out Saturday."

With the offensive line playing as well as they've ever played, they've given senior quarterback Connor Shaw plenty of time to make plays. Under Shaw's direction, the USC offense is averaging nearly 480 yards per game. The senior quarterback has also been efficient thus far, throwing for 661 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. Spurrier has even taken note.

"He's playing well, but there's a lot of plays he can do better. He's played very well. He takes care of the ball extremely well. I watched some of those NFL guys toss those careless interceptions, and I say, 'Our guy doesn't do that,' so he's careful where he throws it, and of course his ability to run out is very helpful also," said Spurrier.

On the defensive end of things, defensive line coach Deke Adams and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward are going to have to get creative to slow down UCF's offense and Bortles.

"He's a veteran quarterback," said Adams. "They have a veteran front. They'll give us their best. I've been up against those guys a number of times. I know how hard they play and know what type of atmosphere will be down there. It will be a big challenge for us."

"It starts with the quarterback," said Ward. "He's got a very good read of defenses. When he gets a pre-snap read, he knows where he's going to go with the football. He's very agile. He can run with the football, he scrambles to throw it. He's got a lot of big play capabilities."  

Adams and Ward will be looking to defensive ends Chaz Sutton and Jadeveon Clowney to contribute as well. Both have been dealing with foot injuries for quite some time.

But Adams praised his players for practicing through the pain.

"They've been working hard. They were banged up a little bit, but got a little rest last week. They've been practicing hard," said Adams. "They've been going the last couple of days, so I look for them to be ready Saturday."

Spurrier will also be looking to his special teams unit to recover from a rough start to the season. The Head Ball Coach has made some tweaks to the unit in hopes of seeing some positive results on Saturday.

One change has cornerback Victor Hampton back at a punt returner. Hampton returned both punts and kickoffs against UNC, but he made things a little too exciting with his reckless running. As a result, he was relieved of his duties for the Georgia game.

"Yeah, it's one of those things I've dreamed about. I keep dreaming about taking one back," said Hampton. "Ace was a good guy last year at punt returner, and I'm trying to make people forget him, so I'm just trying to make a big play for my team."

South Carolina will likely need to rely on plenty of big plays to win on the road this Saturday. The Gamecocks face the Knights starting at noon on ABC.

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