Previewing Florida Atlantic at South Carolina: Three Keys, Fun Fact, and Prediction

Time to take on the Florida Atlantic Owls in a game that hopefully will serve as a useful tuneup for our showdown against a top-10 Ole Miss team next week. Below is my preview; also take a look at what Leftover Hot Dog has to say.

Three Keys

1. Stephen Garcia. Once again, Garcia is key to a good showing by the Gamecocks. However, I would say that this week the issues are a bit different than last week. Garcia must do two things this week. First of all, he's gotta protect the ball. That's what's most important for the time being, as Florida Atlantic likely won't be able to stay in this game for long unless they can get a couple of opportune turnovers. If that happens, all bets are off for the outcome of this game, as the Owls have the offense to make us pay if we cough the ball up a couple of times. I think Garcia can protect the ball, though; he's shown that he can so far this year. Given that he does so, it would also be nice to see Garcia do a better job of stretching the field. If this offense is to truly become a good one and this team is to win big games, Garcia is going to be able to have to do more than scramble and hit Weslye Saunders on dump offs. Opposing defensive coordinators saw what we did last week to Georgia's zone, and I expect them to take those plays away from us if we can't prove we can make them pay by going deep. If we can, though, this offense could start to look like the Spurrier offenses of old, and we may win lots of games this year, starting with next week's game against the Rebels.

2. Wide Receiver Play. This is a related point. Our receivers made a few mistakes last week that may have cost us the game. We have no shortage of talent at receiver, but it's mostly inexperienced talent. That's especially true of Tori Gurley, an imposing receiver physically but one that's a redshirt freshman who only recently moved to receiver. Gurley and others will have to learn how to do thing like get better positioning on opposing defensive backs for this offense to really take off.

3. Good Play from Inexperienced Defensive Players. We're going to be without Nathan Pepper, Ladi Ajiboye, and possibly Darian Stewart this week, which means that Travian Robertson, Melvin Ingram, and perhaps DeVonte Holloman are going to have to step up. And the Owls will challenge these guys; FAU's offense is formidable and will make us pay if we can't pressure the quarterback and / or play poorly in coverage. Luckily, we should be much closer to 100% next week against Ole Miss.

Continue reading after the jump.

Fun Fact

Last time we played the Owls, in the only prior meeting between these two schools, Syvelle Newton and Sidney Rice helped us put up record numbers. Rice's five TD grabs broke our all-time record and tied the SEC record. I was at this game, and it was a fun one to watch.

Prediction

Florida Atlantic is a good team that will challenge for the Sun Belt crown this year. However, they and Sun Belt schools in general simply don't have the athletes we have, and this game shouldn't be very close after the second quarter or so. That's not a knock against the Owls or their legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger. This is a school that has come out of nowhere over the past few years to become pretty successfull. That's a quality accomplishment, and losing badly to an SEC school hardly takes away from that.

That said, this is a team that has the horses to stay with us if we play poorly. Think back to games like 2007's matchups against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina State. Although we won those games, we played like crap; those teams just weren't good enough to take advantage. Florida Atlantic is, and if we come out unfocused, uninspired, and cough the ball up three or four times, we stand a reasonable chance to lose this one. So far this year, though, we've shown a greater ability to protect the ball, and being under the lights at Williams-Brice for the first time this year should be enough of an inspiration for our guys to give this one their all. I'm calling this one a 45-10 Gamecocks victory.

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