It's time, folks. Time for Carolina football. The Southern Miss. Golden Eagles come to Williams-Brice Stadium tomorrow night to get the season started. Here are my final thoughts on the game. Please don't forget to come by the Open Thread tomorrow to chat about the game while it's going on.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Stephen Garcia Must Play Well
Whether Shaw plays or not (and he will), I believe that we need to see a good performance out of Garcia that helps him solidify his role as the starter. It's not just because if Garcia plays bad, Steve Spurrier is likely to give Connor Shaw more PT, which is not a situation I want to see us in in Shaw's first career game. It's also that I believe we need Garcia to play well this year to have a good season. We need him to be the starter, not a true freshman. This is his chance to come out and show Spurrier and Gamecock Nation that he's going to lead this offense this season. Garcia has had many great moments for us, but this year we need him to play like that week in and week out. That starts tomorrow. The plays should be there against a questionable USM defense, and Garcia needs to make them.
As for Shaw, I strongly believe that he will be a good QB for us one day, but I doubt that's what will happen this year. He's a true freshman and needs to be given a chance to grow into his role. It's not impossible for a true freshman to succeed in the SEC--remember Erik Ainge in 2004?--but it is unlikely.
2. Getting to USM's Quarterback
Southern Miss. has an experienced, accomplished QB in Austin Davis and some talented receivers, particualrly DeAndre Brown. However, as all Gamecocks fans know, talent at the skills positions means naught if your offensive line doesn't give you any room to run or time to make throws. USM will be breaking in some new linemen tomorrow night, and that should give the Gamecocks a chance to put some serious pressure on the quarterback. That's one that thing that could throw this game wideopen for us.
1. Win the Turnover Battle
We're sizeable favorites against USM. Losing games like this tends to involve one thing: boneheaded mistakes. Go back and watch the big upsets that have happened in recent years and you'll see plenty of screwups by the favorites. The most costly will be turnovers. Coaches like to say that turnovers are great equalizers, the kinds of plays that can turn a game on its head. We have to avoid losing in that department. If we do, we'll probably be OK in this game, regardless of how the rest of it pans out.
What It Means: This game is what most early season matchups against inferior competition are--a chance to show how far we've come during the offseason. While a loss would certainly be disastrous, it's also important that we show some progress tomorrow night. You want to see Garcia play well, you want to see guys like Rodney Paulk show they can be effective, you want to see the line do well. You also don't want to see injuries.
Prediction: I wouldn't be surprised if this game is somewhat close in the first half, but expect Carolina to start to wear out USM's defense and pull away in the third. My final score prediction is 37-10 Carolina.