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Previewing South Carolina at Clemson: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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Mary Ann Chastain – AP

South Carolina’s quarterback Stephen Garcia (5) looks to throw during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Troy Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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Here we are, folks. The last regular-season game of our magical 2010 season. Will we round off things going into the SEC Championship Game with a win over our rivals the Clemson Tigers? Or will we allow the Tigers to put a damper on what we’ve achieved so far? Here are my thoughts on the game.

Three Keys

3. Disrupt the Clemson Offense from the Beginning

Clemson will look to establish the run with Jamie Harper (and possibly Andre Ellington) and then use play action to try to open up the passing game. The Tigers will look to get Kyle Parker into a rhythm early, as he’s the kind of player who is either hot or not. Carolina’s front-line needs to dominate this game from the beginning, corral Harper, and put lots of pressure on Parker. If we can bop Parker a few times early, I like our chances to rattle him and cause him to play a poor game throughout the evening. Unless we turn the ball over a lot, we’ll win if that happens. Clemson can’t come into this game and expect to win if it can’t score more than 20 points or so, and it’s had a lot of trouble doing that this year.

2. Contain the Pass Rush, Especially Da’Quan Bowers

Just as we’ll look to rattle Parker, the Tigers will look to rattle Stephen Garcia, who has his own history of folding in tight, hard-hitting games. Bowers is one of the nation’s best pass-rushers, and he’ll provide a stiff challenge for our line. If Clemson’s front is able to dominate this game, it could be a long afternoon for us.

1. Run the Football Well

It’s what makes this team go. When Marcus Lattimore and the running game are clicking, the Gamecocks’ entire offense plays well, we keep the defense off the field and fresh, and we generally win easily. The goal in this game will undoubtedly be to get things started on that foot again. Clemson’s run defense is good, but they have been known to have trouble with backs of lesser caliber than Lattimore.

What It Means

This game has no major national implications and doesn’t affect our conference standing. However, the stakes are high for a Gamecocks program trying to establish recruiting superiority in the state of South Carolina. Plus, bragging rights are on the line. That’s important to me. I don’t care how much you say the SEC is more important; in-state rivalries are still what college football is all about. That means that this is the most important game of the season.

Prediction

I see the Tigers coming to play in this one and challenging us to a tight game. This game is their Super Bowl and they’ll play accordingly. However, we have the superior team, and I think we persevere. 23-16 Gamecocks victory.


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Previewing Troy at South Carolina: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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GAINESVILLE FL - NOVEMBER 13:  Josh Dickerson #41 of the South Carolina Gamecocks holds up the ball after recovering a fumble during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13 2010 in Gainesville Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Mike Ehrmann – Getty Images

6 days ago:

GAINESVILLE FL – NOVEMBER 13: Josh Dickerson #41 of the South Carolina Gamecocks holds up the ball after recovering a fumble during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13 2010 in Gainesville Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Three Keys to Victory

3. Pass Defense

Troy has one of the nation’s best statistical passing offenses. Therefore, even if we’re heavily favored in this game and probably shouldn’t make too much of what happens in it, it will be interesting to see how we perform against the pass so we can gauge whether or not our secondary is improving. I don’t necessarily expect to see a great performance, but it would be nice to see us make fewer mental mistakes.

One aspect of our pass defense that will be interesting to watch: Does Ellis Johnson blitz as aggressively as he does against SEC teams? While it’s common to use a prevent-based gameplan against teams like Troy, GwinnnettGamecock noted in one of the comments thread this week that one of our problems with playing down to our competition in games like this seems to be that our coaches don’t call the game as aggressively. Maybe it’s time to see how we fare with a more aggressive approach. It’s not like it’s early in the season and we need to play close to the vest and not give anything away to upcoming opponents.

2. Run the Ball

In the days leading up to the Florida game, much was made of whether or not Spurrier would commit to the run in the biggest game of the season. Your truly was one those speculating on the topic. We all knew that the team is at its best when Marcus Lattimore gets going, but would Spurrier fully commit to the new offensive approach after having waffled on it in previous weeks? As it turned out, Spurrier did indeed place Carolina’s hopes on the running game, even working in more QB runs for Stephen Garcia to go along with leaning on Lattimore. The results speak for themselves. Against Troy, Carolina should continue doing the same. We should have little trouble running the ball against the Trojans, and, what’s more, long, clock-eating, run-based drives should help us protect the ball and keep our defense fresh and ready to combat Troy’s passing game. As the saying goes, teams that can run the ball up the gut on you are hard to beat, because a good running game keys so many other elements of a team’s game. In sum, I’d very much like to see Lattimore run for around 100 yards with a couple of scores and for Brian Maddox to get the bulk of the second-half carries and run for 100 of his own, both because Lattimore could use the rest and because Maddox deserves some carries. That will be a measure of a healthy offense and coaching philosophy for this team.

1. Protect the Ball

Most great upsets involve ugly turnover margins for the favored team, and typically the favored team can overcome a poor overall performance as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over too much. That more or less sums up what Carolina needs to do to win this game. As long as we finish -1 or better in TOs, I think that we win.

What It Means

In the grand scheme of things, this game probably only means a lot if we lose. Early-season games against non-premier non-conference competition is interesting because you get glimpses of how the team has evolved since the year before, but at this point in the season, you know what you have and just don’t want your team to wet the bed. Losing is a definite possibility if we come out flat, especially if we put the ball on the ground and / or Garcia throws some interceptions. Troy is a good team and could easily take advantage if we don’t come to play. That said, we shouldn’t have too much trouble here. If that’s the case, then all I really want to see to consider this a good weekend is for us to create a reasonable lead by the third quarter and then get the backups some playing time in the last home game, particularly the seniors. I would especially like to see Maddox get plenty of touches. He’s been a true team player this year and deserves one last chance to make the highlight reels.

Prediction

Carolina pulls out to a sizeable lead by halftime and coasts in the second half whilst giving up a few scores to allow Troy to make the final score somewhat respectable. ‘Cocks win 45-27.


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Previewing South Carolina at Florida: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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Will Steve Spurrier finally get another win over his old team?

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Peter Cosgrove – AP

Will Steve Spurrier finally get another win over his old team?

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It’s time. The Gamecocks will take on the Gators tomorrow night in The Swamp with the SEC East Title on the line. This is Carolina’s chance to make history and finally earn a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Here’s a quick preview; I would have more, but time constraints are eating away at me right now.

Three Keys to Victory

3. Play Smart Assignment Football

Florida has gotten back to running the spread option effectively now that it’s discovered the talents of Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. Having Chris Rainey back has also put a bit more “oomph” in the Gators ground game. This revamped Gators attack will challenge Carolina’s front line in a way that we haven’t really seen this year. Take hope, though, dear reader; Carolina has mostly been good against mobile QBs so far this season, and I think they’re capable of doing well against Florida, too. A good performance will be key to making sure that we can put the Gators in a position in which they have to throw the ball down field, which is exactly where they don’t want to be.

2. Turnover Margin

Florida’s secondary has been one of the best in the nation so far this season, particularly in terms of producing game-changing interceptions. In a game where I expect the Gators to challenge Carolina to throw the ball by focusing on bottling up Marcus Lattimore from the get-go, Stephen Garcia will have to be very careful with the ball and make sure he avoids committing any mistakes that come back to haunt us. It also wouldn’t hurt to force a couple of key turnovers ourselves.

1. Pass Defense

In what you might call an epic cream-puff war, the Carolina pass defense will square off against the Florida pass offense in a battle to determine supremacy in suckitude. What will the key be to turning in an improved performance against the pass? Perhaps Carolina’s rush. The Gators have had a lot of trouble protecting John Brantley this year, and Brantley hasn’t exactly been doing a good job of dealing with pressure. A healthy dose of Cliff Matthews and Devin Taylor is perhaps exactly what he needs.

What It Means

Garcia called this game the most important in Carolina history. Spurrier disagreed. The disagreement probably points up the fact that it’s a little difficult to know how to describe the importance of a game without a bit of hindsight. One thing’s for certain here: if we win, it’ll likely be the biggest victory in program history. It’s really just that simple. Carolina has never gotten this close to getting into the country’s premier conference title game.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t have a good feeling about this game. It seems that the exact situation that many of us have feared all year is about to come to pass–the Gators, after struggling all year, are finally getting it together, while Carolina, after starting strong, is falling apart. I hope that we buck the trend this weekend, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m expecting a close Gators victory.

It should be observed here that I called for a loss in the ‘Bama game.


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Previewing Arkansas at South Carolina: Three Keys to Victory, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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Mike Fuentes – AP

FILE – In this Oct. 9, 2010, file photo, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, right, congratulates quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) after a first half touchdown against Texas A&M during an NCAA college football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. One receiver after another has gone down with injury in recent weeks for Arkansas. Even Mallett has missed time. New faces or not, Petrino’s offense keeps putting up record-setting passing numbers. (AP Photo/Mike Fuentes, File)

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Three Keys to Victory

3. Be Special

Carolina has had a fair bit of trouble in the special teams games over the past few weeks, and–say–a turnover on a punt return after a key stop could be disastrous in a game in which we’ll need to make the most of each stop.

2. Find Some Way to Slow Down the Razorbacks’ Passing Attack

One of the big narratives going into this game is the state of the Carolina pass defense against Arkansas’s, to put it mildly, highly successful passing game. Even with Greg Childs not playing, Carolina will have to play a nearly perfect game to avoid giving up mucho passing yards. Heck, better defense’s than Carolina’s have had little success against these guys. Is it hopeless for us? It seems like that right now, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for (1) our secondary to do what it hasn’t really done all year (even against ‘Bama) and play a full game with no busted coverages and (2) for our big guys to get some pressure on Ryan Mallett. That could make the difference in this one.

1. Run the Football

The other way to slow down Arkansas’s offense? Move the ball effectively ourselves, preferably in prolonged drives. That will help keep our defense fresh in a game where fatigue could certainly come into play for our depleted secondary. It will also, of course, help us score some points–Arkansas has had very little success slowing down good running games this year, so if we put this one in Brian Maddox and Marcus Lattimore‘s hands, we should be good to go.

What It Means

In some respects, this game doesn’t mean a whole lot. The game is likely meaningless in the Eastern Division race, as Carolina will finish either second or first solely depending on what happens next weekend against Florida. That said, I still think there’s a lot riding on this game. There’s a lot of disagreement among fans about just what Carolina needs to do to call this a successful season, but one thing is for certain–there’s little to no room for error. Every game counts from here on out if we’re going to be able at the end of the day to call this the great season that we should be able to, and that means we need to pick up a win over a good and ranked Razorbacks team.

Prediction

Like Phil Steele, I’m going with 38-35 Carolina. A late Lattimore TD makes the difference.


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Previewing Tennessee at South Carolina: Three Keys to Victory, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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Wade Payne – AP

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley leaves the field after an NCAA college football game Tennessee-Martin at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 50-0. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

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Three Keys to Victory

3. Pass Defense

Tennessee has actually moved the ball fairly well through the air this year, so our pass defense will need to be on. It would also help for one or two of them to finally reel in an interception; the opportunity might be there, as it appears probable that freshman Tyler Bray will see some time.

2. Stephen Garcia

This game will present a lot of opportunities for us to move the ball through the air. Tennessee is very young and banged up in the secondary, and our receivers present the kind of challenge that the Vols just won’t have much luck defending. I also like our offensive line’s chances to hold up a Tennessee pass rush that ranks very poorly in sacks. That means that Garcia will have open receivers and time to throw. If he’s on his game, he could lead us to a lot of points and a victory. He also needs to help us win the…

1. Turnover Margin

The Vols have kept it close into the fourth against one SEC opponent this season, LSU. How’s they do it? Turnovers. The Tigers moved the ball at will against Tennessee, which should tell you something about how weak Tennessee’s usually vaunted defense has been this season. However, Tennessee got some opportune turnovers to keep LSU from converting their yards into points. I’d say the same will hold true here–we’re going to move the ball, but the question is whether we’re going to put lots of points on the board. Turnovers will be key there.

What It Means

Believe it or not, no one really expects Tennessee to win tomorrow. If that doesn’t tell you something about the extent to which this is our best chance ever to win the East, I don’t know what will. The Gamecocks are viewed as a good team this year, while the Vols are really reeling. However, don’t think they can’t win. This game will not be a breather, and our guys will need to come ready to play if we’re going to win. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. At this point, every game should be considered a playoff for an SEC Championship Game berth, and our coaches and players should act accordingly. A win gets us one step closer to the prize; a loss would be disastrous. This one is also a revenge game of sorts; Carolina will be looking to get a little payback against the Vols after what they did to us last year. I’m sure we would all appreciate that.

Prediction

34-13 ‘Cocks. As with other games this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is close early, but Carolina’s superior talent and depth should allow us to take over in the second half and win fairly convincingly. The only thing that should worry us is lackadaisical play, and after two weeks of road worries, this team will be focused on getting it back in gear.


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