East Carolina vs. South Carolina Preview: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

The most highly anticipated season in South Carolina history is upon us. There's a bit of drama heading into the season-opening showdown with ECU, but that shouldn't daunt rightly confident Gamecocks fans too much--yet. Here's a quick preview of the game.

Three Keys to Victory

3. Alshon Jeffery vs. ECU's Secondary

With Emanuel Davis out, East Carolina doesn't have anyone who can even remotely cover Jeffery. I expect for us to lean on running the ball with Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw, and Stephen Garcia (I think people criticizing Spurrier's decision to start Shaw will be pleasantly surprised with his ability to make good option reads and gain yards on the ground) most of the evening, but if Carolina's QBs are up to the task--a question mark, to be sure--there should also be more than the usual opportunities for Jeffery to have his typical big game.

2. Quarterback Play

Needless to say, there's more than a few questions about QB play heading into this game, with sophomore  Shaw surprisingly getting the start over veteran Garcia. Spurrier says he plans to start Shaw and then to play Garcia in the second quarter. Is Shaw really ready for the limelight? How will Garcia responds to being benched? These are particularly important questions here in the sense that, as with any mismatch, it will be key to ECU's chances for it to be able to kill promising Carolina drives with turnovers. They'll also be questions that will stay with us throughout the season.

1. Secondary Play, Particularly Tackling

ECU passes the ball. A lot. That means a test for our beleagured secondary. However, it's important to note that short-field coverage and tackling may be more important than downfield coverage. ECU will try to soften up Carolina's defense with lots of bubble screens and slants. Carolina's secondary will have to make sure these kinds of plays typically go for no more than two- or three-yard gains, as opposed to six- or seven-yard ones. If it can do that, it will force ECU into a downfield passing game, allowing our pass rush to impact the game more profoundly. If we can't defend the short-passing game, ECU will march down the field and be able to open up the playbook on its own terms--and it will score a lot of points.

Keep reading after the jump.

What It Means

The main narrative going into this game is the QB situation, and that will be the most significant thing we'll be thinking about after it's over. I think we're going to lean on the running game most of the evening, as that's what's safe and what gives us the best chance to win this or any other game. However, Carolina fans need to go into the Georgia game with confidence that either Shaw or Garcia are ready to make the plays needed to win what is likely the biggest game of the SEC East slate. We'll be watching intently to see whether or not they're ready to do that.

Prediction

ECU gets on the board early, but Carolina's prowess running the ball allows us to wear down the Pirates while giving our defense frequent breathers. Because we lean so heavily on the running game, neither Shaw or Garcia get a lot of chances to distinguish themselves in the air, mainly only getting chances to hit Jeffery in the flats and to dump off to Lattimore and our speedy slot receivers. The secondary comes along and plays the game we were hoping for it to play, eventually figuring out the ECU offense and recording a couple of interceptions. Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram, and Jadeveon Clowney don't record many sacks, but they're instrumental in slowing down ECU. Carolina walks away with a 42-17 victory but has lingering questions heading into Athens.

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