This post begins our series previewing this weekend's game against Navy. Today we're talking about what to watch regarding Navy's defense against our offense.
USC's Passing Game. South Carolina currently ranks 75th in total offense, largely because the passing game is struggling so mightily. There are multiple factors holding our passing game up. First of all, Stephen Garcia's accuracy has been a problem, much more so far this year than last year, and that's saying something. However, Garcia isn't the only culprit. Coming into the year, many Carolina fans felt we might have the best WR unit in the conference. Things haven't played out as planned. Alshon Jeffery remains Alshon Jeffery; he's putting up good numbers, making nice catches, and once Garcia calms down a bit, he'll likely start breaking 100 more often than not. However, no one has stepped up to take Tori Gurley's place as the number-two receiver. The closest candidate is Ace Sanders; Sanders has made some nice catches. However, he's not getting open consistently enough, and because he's a small, burner type, he's not someone we can rely on as a possession receiver, as Gurley was. We were hoping that D.L. Moore or Jason Barnes could be that guy, but both have had problems with drops, sometimes of the very ugly variety. In fact, the only guys with catches other than Jeffery, Sanders, and Marcus Lattimore are Justice Cunningham, a blocking TE / H-Back, and Nick Jones, a guy who's probably only going to play in mop-up duty this season. The Gamecocks really need to see Barnes and / or Moore step up their games. It will also help to get Damiere Byrd back, which will luckily happen before the Auburn game. Regardless, it would be good to see some improvement in this regard this week, if only to give upcoming opponents something to think about. Navy's defense has played well against the pass so far, but that's been against Delaware and Western Kentucky; they'll be undermanned against our athletes. Garcia often seems to play within himself more at home, so I expect a good game out of him. The question is whether a receiver or two steps up.
Keep reading after the jump.
USC's Running Game. Navy's rushing defense has not been particularly formidable against its first two opponents. Coming into the season, the defensive front was a major concern for the Midshipmen, who lost eight total defensive starters, including most of the depth on defensive line and in the linebacking corps. The Midshipmen haven't done anything so far to dispel the idea that rushing defense is their Achilles' Heel, and there should be ample opportunity for our offensive line--which has a major size and athleticism advantage in this game--to open huge holes for Lattimore. I expect another 150+-yard game for Lattimore, as well as plenty of rushing yards for Garcia and Bruce Ellington. I'd also like to see us get Kenny Miles in there and see if he can make some plays.
Time of Possession. While I'd again like to see us work the passing game a bit to build confidence, it's very important that we mount some long offensive drives in this game. Why? Because Navy is definitely going to, and if we don't, our defense may be gassed by the end of the game. Hopefully, we'll have put this thing away by then. However, if we haven't, we'll be in trouble if Navy has owned TOP.
Turnovers. Navy knows it's outmanned in this game, but it also knows that if it can force key South Carolina turnovers, its offense can put enough points on the board to keep it in the game. I'd say that Navy needs at least a couple of major turnovers if it wants to win this game. Therefore, our offense--particularly Garcia--needs to be very careful in protecting the ball.