This is a game that I have had circled on my schedule for some time now. It's very scary. I must say that I was very happy when South Carolina struggled against NC State. But then came their game against Georgia and my worries were resurrected. A losing team has rarely scared me as much as South Carolina did during that game. Stephen Garcia showed an ability to take what the defense gave him, averaging 5.9 yards per attempt on 53 passing attempts.
Yep. 53 attempts. Anyone who has seen the Rebel secondary for the past eleventy billion years is frightened by that number. In years past, I cringed whenever the opposing team threw a pass, just knowing that it would be completed. Sure, this year our corners and safeties have performed admirably, but two solid games against Memphis and Southeast Louisiana prove nothing significant.
South Carolina's strengths don't stop in the passing game either.
Freshman sensation Jarvis Giles had a breakout game against Florida Atlantic (11 carries, 113 yards, 1 TD). It's difficult to determine if the cause of that breakout game was solely the opponent, since Giles struggled the week before against Georgia, rushing for only 2.3 yards per carry. However, even if his stats may only be a product of playing against a poor run defense, it worries me. Our run defense has struggled, giving up 3.3 yards per carry against two weak opponents. We aren't tackling well, but our players also just don't seem to be in positions to make plays all that often. We need to work on block shedding as much as we do on fundamental tackling. Lastly, I'll say this about South Carolina's running backs: if Steve Spurrier continues to trot out Brian Maddox as a starter, he's doing a disservice to his team. Giles is too big a playmaker to leave on the sidelines early.
Tori Gurley is the Gamecocks' go-to receiver, but I haven't been all that impressed with him. Watching the NC State and Georgia games, I saw Gurley often and remember hearing his name a lot. He certainly made some good grabs, but there were also routine plays on which Gurley failed or just didn't even try. I don't think that there is one significant matchup problem as far as their receivers are concerned (other than height across the board), but Garcia does a good job of spreading the ball around, so we need to make sure that Jeremy McGee and Marcus Temple play hard against slot receivers.
The Gamecok offensive line is the area in which we really need to attack. Our defensive line, while highly touted, has yet to produce the uncanny pass rush that we saw much of last year. Sure, you're not going to get tons of sacks against teams like Memphis or SELA due to their offensive gameplans, but I don't feel like we have been blowing up inferior offensive linemen like we need to. Here's our chance. South Carolina's offensive line is the key. They hired a new offensive line coach to try to get a grip on their problems, and the offensive line has performed admirably at times this season, but if the Rebels win, it's because of this mismatch. If we can get consistent pressure on Stephen Garcia with Kentrell Lockett, Emmanuel Stephens, and Jerrell Powe, we win the game.
On defense, the Gamecocks are banged up a good bit, but they don't appear to have significant injuries keeping players out of the game. Obviously, it's tough to tell how much a lingering "minor" injury will affect performance. We have seen Greg Hardy's career damn near destoryed due to a string of so-called "minor" injuries.
Obviously, everyone is concerned about Eric Norwood, the Gamecocks starting linebacker/defensive end/safety/long snapper, but I think there's another name that we could see surface as a legitimate defensive presence for South Carolina, and that's defensive tackle Travian Robertson. In both South Carolina games I have watched this year, Robertson has stuck out as a player who can collapse the pocket. Sure, he's not incredible yet, but I think that there are certainly sparks of greatness. A defensive tackle who can get pressure on the quarterback is not something that our interior linemen need right now.
South Carolina's secondary is young, but they're very talented. Still, I'm going to have to side with our veteran receivers. Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster can get open against anyone. If Pat-Pat is a real weapon in this game, Jevan's stats could be excellent.
So all that to say that I think the game will be very close.
Rebels by 2.
That's my prediction. What's yours?