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South Carolina Preview

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In December, we’ll look back on this weekend as the true defining moment of our season. While certainly magnificently fantastical, the Florida game is only really indicative of our potential under certain circumstances and not necessarily our accomplishments. Simply put, if we beat the Gamecocks, we're relevant in the SEC for the first time in half a decade. If we lose, the Florida game was a fluke.

South Carolina’s quarterback situation has been a revolving door so far this season. Slated as the starter until Thursday, Stephen Garcia appeared to be a legitimate QB. He was highly rated coming out of high school, has great mobility, and likes gettin’ blasted out of his mind and driving around Columbia. Granted, his decision making probably isn't good enough to really win a game, but he has enough physical ability to turn on and take the game into his own hands. However, despite the Garcia praise and promotion, Spurrier suddenly named Chris Smelley as the starter against our Rebels. Smelley has been a decent QB who doesn't throw games away, but if the ball is in his hands to try to win the game, the defensive line will be thrilled. I suspect Smelley will have a so-so day, throwing for somewhere near 200 yds, 1 TD, and 2 INTs.

Speaking of interceptions, South Carolina Quarterbacks lead the conference with a whopping 11. Our secondary isn’t anywhere close to the best in the conference, but it would be a disappointment if they don’t take a ball or two away from the Gamecock offense. South Carolina's running game has been underperforming all season. Mike Davis has played relatively well considering the porous line in front of him, but he struggled heavily against Georgia, carrying the ball 12 times for 22 yards. Unless South Carolina gets Kenny McKinley back in full health, we're going to be stacking the box giving Davis trouble moving the ball all day. The Gamecocks' offensive woes don't stop at runningback. With no real go-to wide receiver, Steve Spurrier has turned to TE Jared Cook to carry the bulk of the receiving efforts. While Cook has done an exceptional job thusfar, more consistent play has to come from a receiver to give this team big play capabilities. Of course, that could come this weekend if Kenny McKinley hits the field. McKinley was an excellent receiver last season and, at full strength, would be a legitimate threat to put up big numbers against the Rebel secondary. If he's unable to go by gametime, look for Smelley to be unsuccessful passing the ball. The Gamecock offensive line is terrible. How terrible, you ask? Well, how’s leading the conference in sacks allowed for terrible? Greg Hardy should have another career day thrashing and gnashing his blockers into oblivion and Powe, Laurent, Jerry, and Tillman should all expect to draw doubleteams. Hopefully this will be able to open up the Rebel blitz which, as Timmy Tebow can tell you, was fairly successful last week. I know his last name really is Smelley, but if you bump into him somewhere in Oxford this weekend and pick up a powerful stench from the encounter, take note that what you smelled was actually the shit in his britches forced out of his bowels by the thought of Greg Hardy earning another SI cover appearance.

Ok, so far it seems like the Rebels are guaranteed a victory on Saturday. Questionable quarterbacks, underperforming runningbacks, an injured wideout, and a cheesecloth OL all work in our favor. But here’s the catch: The Gamecock defense is the best defense in DI football.

No, that’s not a joke and no, we’re not using any sort of hyperbole. Their defense is, literally, the statistically best defense in football.

Ellis Johnson, the reason for Mississippi State’s bowl eligibility and The Walrus’ contract extension last season, is now coaching a dominant 4-2-5 (that sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?) in Columbia. There is a catch, though: they're 8th in the conference in run D. Their pass defense is obviously what's keeping them in there (an obvious conference best thus far) but, considering the only legitimate passing threat they've faced is Matthew Stafford, this isn't a terribly surprising revelation.

Johnson has a defensive line that has been described as ameoba-like. As the teams who have played the Gamecocks will attest, this is not a commentary on their size. Rather, it describes the flexibility Johnson likes to bring to the line. Clifton Matthews and Jordin Robertson see most snaps at end, but, like a faithless woman, they do not stay true to either the right or left sides. Matthews (6-4, 250), a sophomore, has excited Gamecocks, leading among defensive linemen in tackles with 18, including 2 behind the line. In the interior, Ladi Ajiboye (ghetto-pronounced "That's your boy") received the preseason hype (and has not performed poorly), but Nathan Pepper (6-1, 292) has been the man "making all that skrilla" with 17 total tackles and 4 for a loss.

Eric Norwood, the leader apparent of the linebacker corp has disappointed, though. The junior made 19.5 tackles for a loss in 2007 (a Gamecock record). Even so, this is still a monstrous linebacker corp between Norwood (23 total tackles), Senior Jasper Brinkley (16 total), and Marvin Sapp (21 totals), the starters are making some stops.

South Carolina obviously brings a team mentality to their defensive scheme. This, the best defense in the country, has only one tackler in the SEC's top 25 - defensive back (strong safety) Emanuel Cook. I'm not sure how illusory that rating is, though. While their opponents are only getting 100 yards in the air per game, their are four teams in the conference who are forcing a higher incompletion percentages (LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Auburn). These teams (Kentucky excepted) obviously have stellar defenses, and so does South Carolina, but Jevan Snead in a pretty pedestrian day managed a 45% completion rate against the second-best pass defense in the SEC last weekend. So, I don't think they are as invulnerable here as Gamecocks might think.

Note well the real-life cynicism you'll get from the Cup, and then remember what kind of offenses South Carolina has played. They started out the season against NC STate, which is averaging 16.6 points per game. Then, travelled to Vanderbilt, which boasts the worst offense in the SEC. They hosted Georgia, whose quarterback clearly is not going first in the NFL draft, and have eaten cupcakes the last two weeks. They ain't faced Tebow. Hell, they ain't even faced Riley Skinner.

The final analysis is that the Evil Empire 2.0 will either be playing for its football life, or it will have already given up. With the quarterback inconsistency unsolved, the lack of leadership on a statistically solid defense, and a resume that couldn't get you a temp job at Dunder-Mifflin, we've decided to be bold.

Rebs by 10.

Hotty Toddy.