Three Keys to Victory
3. More of the Same on Defense
Carolina has played extremely well on defense over the past two weeks, and they have no excuse for not continuing to do so against a struggling Kentucky offense. It should be noted that Melvin Ingram is likely out for this game, and it will be interesting to see if Jadeveon Clowney (and possibly Chaz Sutton for a handful of snaps) can ably fill in for him.
2. Improvement on the Offensive Line
A lot of people have been blaming the offensive line instead of Stephen Garcia for the offense's recent struggles. Personally, I think these people have it wrong, and I think a lot of them simply refuse to acknowledge that Garcia, who has a cult-like following among a large portion of the fanbase, is likely done. That said, the offensive line has struggled over the past couple of games. If it were just the fact that they haven't opened as many holes for Marcus Lattimore, that would be one thing. That has a lot to do with the fact that defenses have been begging Garcia to throw the ball by stacking the box. However, it's not just that. The number of penalties the line has had in recent games is completely unacceptable, particularly considering that this is a fairly experienced group. It would likely make a major difference to see the line half the number of holding and motion penalties they had against Vandy and Auburn. It's also very important that the line protect Connor Shaw in his first full-time SEC action. I think we'll see that Shaw can play well when given time to throw, but if he's not, he may struggle.
1. Improvement at QB
As I've been saying all week, aside from questionable run-pass distribution playcalling, I think QB play is the biggest issue facing this team. Garcia has been completely ineffective in the passing game, and without a passing threat, we've allowed defenses to attack blitz and run-stack with complete impunity. Shaw must prove that he can consistently make the bread-and-butter throws for the Gamecocks offense to get back on track. If that happens, I expect you'll see most of the Gamecocks' other offensive problems magically disappear. If Shaw throws the ball like Garcia, we may be in for an ugly game. I think it's also key for Steve Spurrier to allow Shaw to do what he does best--run the read-option. In other words, I hope we don't see the Gamecocks running out of the I all afternoon.
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What It Means
There's obviously a revenge factor in this game after last year's heartbreaker in Lexington. However, a little of the interest has been drained out of that narrative by the fact that Kentucky has turned out to be epically bad this year. As it stands, I'd say the main goal in this game is to get the ship righted after last week and to build some confidence heading into a key road trip over the next few weeks. It should also be noted that a Carolina victory along with a Florida loss to LSU will put Carolina on top in the East.
All eyes are on Shaw in this game, and I think he'll play fairly well, leading the Gamecocks offense to a more balanced showing. However, I don't expect a lot of fireworks--just a solid, effective offensive performance that moves the ball without turning it over as often. On the other side of the ball, the defense will continue to shine; I don't think we'll hold Kentucky to as few yards as we did Vandy, but I also think it's possible that we'll force more turnovers. I'm calling for a 31-6 Carolina win, with one of the scores coming on defense.