Well, folks, the season is finally upon us: It's time for the border showdown against the North Carolina Tar Heels. What does South Carolina need to do to win this contest? Let's take a look.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Unheralded Receivers Need to Step Up. With Bruce Ellington possibly out or in a limited role given his missed practice time, someone out of Damiere Byrd, Shamier Jeffery, Nick Jones, or Shaq Roland needs to step up and make some big plays in the passing game. Rory Anderson is out too, and while Jerrell Adams give us an excellent target, he's reportedly less than 100%, and he, too, is somewhat unproven. Reports out of practice have been positive where the receivers are concerned, but still, Byrd and to some extent Jones are the only one who have made big plays in big games, and neither have been consistent contributors. UNC had a poor pass defense last year, so if our guys play like they're capable of playing, there could be some opportunities in the passing game. While I think we'll seek to move the ball methodically most of the night, I would also look out for Byrd deep at some point. UNC gave up a lot of big passing plays last year and is questionable at safety.
2. Stay Disciplined on Defense and Tackle Well. North Carolina under Larry Fedora will seek to play hurry-up on offense, and when they're not running the ball, they like to work the short passes out to the perimeter and on the slant. It's important that all of our players, including the corners, shed blocks in space and tackle well. This game will provide a particularly good test in this regard for our young linebacking corps. Reports out of practice have been promising for what was once thought to be our team's Achilles heel coming into this season, but practice is practice. UNC has some very solid talent on offense that will put our young guys to the test. Hopefully they can work out any kink this week, in a game when our offense will likely be able to afford them some mistakes.
1. Control the Ball on Offense. The best way to slow down a team running the hurry-up offense is to have a dominant defense. The next best way is to keep your offense on the field. Fedora's offense will work better if it's allowed to stay in a rhythm, which won't happen if it's watching from the sideline all night. Moreover, UNC's hurry-up places a lot of pressure on its defense. The offense will either give the ball back quickly or score quickly; either way, UNC's defense isn't going to get a lot of rest. If we can force the Tar Heels' defense to spend even more time on the field by mounting long drives, it won't have much left in the tank late in the game.This being the case, while I'd definitely like us to see us test UNC's secondary from time to time, we'll likely help ourselves most by running the football well over the course of the game. Fortunately, reports out of practice are that our run blocking is much improved over a year ago, and we have three excellent tailbacks with varied skill sets who should be able to punish UNC's defense.
Most Gamecocks I've spoken to about this game think we're going to dominate a hapless ACC also-ran. I'm not sure that's the case. I don't see UNC as a national title contender by any means, but they're a solid team that could have easily been 10-2 or 11-1 last year, albeit against a very weak schedule. They've got some very talented players on offense, including some serious receiving threats and an experienced quarterback. Our young defense has enough question marks to make me believe that we'll make some mistakes, allowing UNC to score 17-27 points or so in the game. That said, we are the better team, particularly on both lines, and the game is in Columbia, where we've established a formidable home-field advantage over the past few years. Against UNC's defense, particularly if we can establish the run early, I expect us to keep up with UNC over the first two-three quarters, and then to pull away late as their defense wilts. Whereas UNC's offense versus our defense might be a relatively even match, our offense should be able to dominate their defense fairly consistently. Expect Carolina (the real one) to cover the 11.5 point spread and win by a couple of touchdowns.