The other white meat.
The Gamecocks take on Arkansas this afternoon in a game that will go a long way towards defining the postseason hopes of both teams. Carolina is now bowl eligible but needs a win to get to keep the dream of getting eight wins, a nice bowl, and a final top-25 ranking, while Arkansas needs a win if they want to become bowl eligible.
On many levels, this game reminds me a lot of last year's Vandy game (and yes, I did begin writing this before Joe Person said the same thing). We had just become bowl eligible and a lot of people were assuming we would get a seventh win over a supposedly inferior opponent before taking on the big boys. We had a quarterback controversy. The game was in the early afternoon. Of course, we ended up losing that game to the Commodores and the wheels came off a promising season.
For a number of reasons, I do not see the same thing happening this time around. Last year, there was cause for concern while we were winning; Vandy was not so much an aberration as a game where our weaknesses finally cost us a game. We had a suspect offensive line and our defense had trouble stopping the run. We had also accrued a number of significant injuries. These issues came back to haunt us during the losing streak, as teams like Arkansas and Florida gameplanned around our weaknesses en route to convincing victories.
This year, we seem to be peeking late in the year. We are not a perfect team--the offensive line is still soft, and, at least in our coach's mind, we do not have a clear starting QB--but we are a better team than we were last year. Last year's defense was deceptively good early in the season, and after we suffered a few injuries and opponents figured out how to beat us, the defense cracked. This year, the defense has no clear weaknesses. Those who think that we still have problems with the run need look no further than the Tennessee game for evidence of our prowess in that area. Our special teams units are also much better. I am not sure if I would call our offense better, as we, for the most part, moved the ball well late last season against Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, and Clemson. However, the offense this year, at least while Garcia is in, is effective enough to win games if our defense holds up its end of the bargain.
All in all, I think we are primed for a late season run. See my three keys to victory and prediction after the jump.
Does anyone know what Spurrier is thinking about his two quarterbacks at this point? He claims that he is going to choose a starter during warmups and will likely play both. He could be doing this (1) because he legitimately thinks that Smelley might be a better option than Garcia and wants to go with the hot hand, (2) because he wants to foster a spirit of competition between the two to get them to play better, (3) because he wants Arkansas to have to prepare for both, or (4) some combination of the above.
Even though Spurrier quotes it as the official line, I have a hard time believing the first option; Smelley may very well know the play book and be a little better prepared mentally, but other than the Ole Miss game, that knowledge has not led him to play better than Garcia. I get that Garcia would be better with a spring training under his belt, but, in comparison to Smelley, Garcia's ability to create more than makes up for his mental deficiencies. The ideas that Spurrier is trying to motivate Garcia and/or wants to psyche out the Hogs seem more plausible, but, again, Spurrier seems for real about thinking Smelley is a viable choice. One thing to keep in mind, perhaps, is that Arkansas, which has a suspect, banged-up defensive line, likely will not create the type of pass rush that we have seen in past weeks, and Smelley typically plays well (i. e., does not throw as many picks) when he is not under pressure. Perhaps Spurrier does not think Garcia's mobility will be as handy today.
Whatever route he chooses, we need one of these two to step up and play well. Arkansas has a terrible rushing defense (again, their defense front is very inexperienced), so we should be able to establish the run early. That should set up a perfect opportunity for Smelley or Garcia to blow this game wide open if they can execute. If they do not, we will not move the ball well and may have problems with...
In a game where we have a decided advantage in terms of talent and experience, the Arkansas defense can make up for its deficiencies by taking the ball away from us. We should be able to move the ball against Arkansas's defense and our defense should not have too much trouble with Casey Dick and his crew, but we could be in for a long afternoon if we cough the ball up in the red zone or give the Hogs the short field. Vanderbilt has beaten us this way two years running now, and with the interception-prone Smelley looking like a possible player in tomorrow's game, we have reason to worry about a repeat performance. Hopefully, today will be different.
On the flip side, we should be able to create turnovers against Arkansas. With a suspect offensive line, Arkansas will have trouble protecting Casey Dick, and when Dick makes mistakes, we need to capitalize. As we did against the Vols, we can pull away early if we can force the Hogs to cough the ball up a couple of times.
Special Teams Play
The other deciding factor in controlling the all-important field position is special teams play. Other than against Vandy, we have played extremely well on special teams this year. We are getting more return yards, are playing well in coverage, are getting better protection on punts and field goals, and we even blocked a field goal against Kentucky. We need to make sure that we continue this trend and do not give the game to the Hogs through special teams gaffes.
Also important is Ryan Succop's play, especially if this becomes a close game. Succop has struggled a bit, but he bounced back with a 2/2 performance against the Vols. He needs to keep it going against the Hogs.
Ultimately, this game is ours to lose. If we come out and play an efficient,
mistake-free game, we will win by more than one touchdown. If we come out and play like we did in the second half against Vandy or in the first half against Kentucky, we will find ourselves in a tough game and may lose. I think that we may make a mistake or two early but that we will settle down in the second quarter and begin to pull away in the third. Final score: 27-17 Gamecocks.