This post concludes our preview series.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Will USC's Secondary Tackle Well?
As I mentioned in my breakdown of the Air Raid, ECU's offense puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to tackle well in space. Lorenzo Ward has said in post-practice interviews that tackling by the defensive backs has been something the team has emphasized in practice, and it'll be the single biggest key to whether or not ECU is able to move the ball effectively in this game. If we have success here, we may very well hold ECU to a couple of scores or less--maybe a big play here and there, but nothing more. If we don't, it might be a long afternoon for Ward's squad.
2. Does Connor Shaw Start?
This one's a bit of a no-brainer. Our offense with Shaw in the game last week wasn't great. There were kinks that will need to be worked out in the passing game. But the offense was light years ahead of where it was without him. If Shaw plays this weekend, we should at least have a productive offensive afternoon. We're playing against an undersized defensive front and should be able to run the ball and protect the QB with relative effectiveness. I would think that Shaw would have some success exploiting that. If he doesn't play, well, we can hope for the best, but there's a solid chance we'll struggle offensively based on what we've seen so far.
1. If He Doesn't, How Does Dylan Thompson Do?
Thompson looked extremely ill-prepared and jittery when he came in against Vandy. However, he's reportedly played well in practice for some time now, and he's received the lion's share of the reps this week. One would thus hope that he will perform better against ECU than he did against Vandy, in the event that Shaw doesn't go. If Thompson struggles again, though, the Gamecocks may quickly become one-dimensional on offense, and while we could still probably move the ball somewhat in that case by running the read-option, would it be enough to offset a good performance by ECU's offense? That's the big question.
I should note that if this becomes a problem, I would think that we would give Bruce Ellington some snaps at wildcat QB. In fact, I really hope we do that regardless. He's a playmaker and needs plenty of touches. I can't think of a time when he's come in and hasn't had a least some success running out of the wildcat formation.
The noise out of our camp seems to indicate that Shaw will be ready to go this weekend, and if that's the case, I think we'll see a significantly better offensive effort than we saw last week. With Shaw in, we're simply better offensively than we showed last week, and we've had time by now to shake off a bit of the rust, even with Shaw being limited in practice this week. On the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn't be surprised if ECU gives us more trouble than Vandy did. The Pirates are a well-coached offensive team. It won't be enough, though, with Carolina winning 38-21.