This weekend will be the first meeting between South Carolina and Coastal Carolina; my understanding is that they haven't met before due to lingering bad blood over Coastal's departure from the USC system back in the early 90s. (Maybe one of our resident program historians can fill us in on that one in the comments section.)
While obviously an FCS opponent that Carolina should be able to handle without a ton of difficulty, Coastal deserves a ton of credit for bringing an excellent FCS-level team to Williams-Brice. They're currently ranked seventh in the FCS coaches' poll. Unfortunately for the Chants, they're going to have to hope for Charleston Southern to drop this weekend's game to Liberty to win the Big South, as the Buccaneers will be playing to tie CCU in the W-L columns, and CSU holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win over CCU. In any event, this is all to say that while CCU is an FCS team, they're a good FCS team. They'll be coming believing they can spring a monumental upset if they play well. It's a cliche to say this, but it's worth repeating: if they play their best and we come out sputtering, they're good enough to have a chance to win. If you look at Coastal's results this year, it's clear that they're a team with a high-octane offense that may be good enough to put a few touchdowns on the board against the Gamecocks. If we leave points on the field by committing turnovers or stalling out in the red zone, we might have trouble.
Here are my other thoughts on this weekend's game.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Gamecocks defense must tackle well. The Chants have a marginal NFL-level talent in tailback Lorenzo Taliaferro. Taliaferro is a 6'1/230 power back who is likely to get a lot of carries against the Gamecocks. He's averaging over 130 ypg, and he's got a reputation for being a load to take down. The bad news for the Chants is that while Taliaferro is good enough to play at a higher level, his offensive linemen aren't likely to hold their own against an SEC defensive front. That said, when Taliaferro does get past the first line of defense, it's important that we take him down quickly. If we can't, we may have trouble getting Coastal's offense off the field. A successful Coastal running game will also set up the Chants' chances of beating us downfield in the passing game, and some quick scoring strikes would certainly aid their chances of staying in this game.
2. Establish the run. While Coastal has an offense that may find some success competing with Carolina's defense, its defense has given up lots of points at the FCS level. There's no reason to believe that Carolina should have any amount of trouble moving the ball with ease in this game, even if Carolina lines up and runs Shon Carson up the gut three out of four plays. I say we do exactly that, because if we do so, it's less likely that we will...
1. Gamecocks must protect the football. Although a good team, Coastal isn't going to win this game if it doesn't force a few turnovers. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson need to be careful with the football, and the coaching staff has no reason to put them in a position where it's likely they'll fail to do so, considering how easily we should be able to move the ball with a fairly vanilla offense.
Against a team with a surprisingly good offense, there may very well be some annoyed Gamecocks fans wondering why we can't stop an FCS team. However, we'll score our points, too. A halftime score of 28-14 or so in favor of the Gamecocks wouldn't surprise me. We'll eventually play out a 28+-point win, even if Coastal scores a few points. It'll then be time to settle in to watch Ole Miss host Mizzou, a game I have good feelings about.