Time to host our old pals the Mississippi St. Bulldogs. Here are my thoughts on the game.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Mike Davis Needs to Improve Ball Security. Mike Davis has been a revelation this year at tailback. He's leading the SEC in rushing, with good reason. He's got power, he's fast, and with Mizzou keying in on stopping the run last week, Davis proved he could impact the game catching the football (10 catches for 99 yards) and blocking (he laid out Mizzou defensive standout Michael Sam on Connor Shaw's fourth-down TD pass to Bruce Ellington in the first OT). However, Davis lost two fumbles early in the game, and if he hadn't lost those two fumbles, the game might not have been as close as it was. Davis also lost a costly (if disputed) fumble in the loss to Tennessee, as well as another on the goalline late against Central Florida, so this wasn't the first time Davis has been careless with the football in important situations. Mississippi St. will be looking to force a close game against a superior South Carolina team by creating turnovers, and Davis is one place they might look. Davis needs to take the next step and become both a dominant and safe tailback by protecting the ball better.
2. Defense Needs to Continue to Improve. For all the talk of the rousing comeback over Mizzou led by Connor Shaw after the Shawmeister came off the bench, and Shaw's performance was indeed an instant classic in Gamecocks football history, equally important to our win over the Tigers was the performance of the defense, which had its best game of the season. Missouri was averaging over 40 points per game coming in, and it had scored 36 against a good Florida defense the week before. Although Florida's complete ineptitude on offense had something to do with that result, you have to give the Gamecocks' defense credit for keeping a prolific Mizzou offense to only 17 points in regulation. The defense played well in all phases. The linebackers showed marked improvement in playing their assignments well and finishing plays, the defensive line was disruptive and helped force Mizzou into passing situations, and outside the 96-yard TD pass and two dropped interceptions, our secondary did an admirable job in coverage. If our defense continues to improve and our offense gets back to speed as it gets healthy again, we could see marked improvement from the team as a whole over the final games, and certainly we'll be playing well enough to handle Miss. St. at home.
1. Have Another Good Performance from the Special Teams Units. Carolina arguably lost to Tennessee due to field-position killing play on punts, as well as a missed FG by Elliott Fry on what was a tough but certainly not an unmakeable kick. Special teams play had nearly cost Carolina a couple of other games, as well. Last week with the pressure at a fever pitch, though, the special teams units came through with a solid performance. We didn't hurt ourselves too bad on kickoffs or punts, and while he missed an early kick, Fry came through with a short FG to bring the game within a score in regulation and then split the uprights on a solid 40-yarder with the pressure on in double-overtime. Much better performance all around. Again, I doubt MSU beats us unless we hurt ourselves, and, even more than Davis's fumble issues, special teams is the most likely place for us to hurt ourselves. If special teams plays well, we probably win.
I thought Tennessee would be the Gamecocks' chance to build on a positive performance against Arkansas by playing well enough to propel us to a strong finish. Obviously, I was wrong. However, I think I'm going to take another shot at this. With the defense improving, the special teams having built a little confidence, and the offense nearing full relatively full health, I think we do well this week. What seems most significant to me is that this team seems to finally be developing an identity. On offense, we rally around a QB who sacrifices his body for wins. On defense, Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles are emerging as a disruptive due, and our other guys are learning how to play their spots consistently enough to give these two stars enough chances to turn defensive stands in our favor. Identity--the ability to do what you do well enough to force your style of play on your opponent--is often a key quantity in winning football. We're getting there and will take a step closer this weekend. 42-10 Gamecocks.