A winning record is on the line when the 6-6 South Carolina Gamecocks and the 6-6 Miami Hurricanes square off in the Independence Bowl tomorrow. What do the Gamecocks have to do to win?
Three keys to victory
3. Come focused. It's been a really bad month for Gamecocks football, and there's a lot of bad energy around the Gamecocks program. Recruiting is tanking due to uncertainty about the future of the coaching staff and some coaches are probably actively looking for other jobs knowing their positions on the USC staff aren't secure. The negativity has surely made its way to the team itself. That said, the Gamecocks have seniors such as Dylan Thompson who surely want to go out winners, and USC needs these guys to rally the troops and inspire a focused performance from the team.
2. Offense must regain groove. After struggling offensively against elite Florida and Clemson defenses, Carolina faces a less imposing--although not weak--defensive squad in Miami. Can Carolina regain the elite offensive form it displayed against Auburn and Tennessee earlier in the season? One thing to watch is how Carolina does against Miami DE tandem Tyriq McCord (a former Gamecocks recruiting target who we could have certainly used this year) and Anthony Chickillo. Carolina has proven susceptible to a good pass rush, and while Miami isn't Clemson in this area by any means, the 'Canes can generate some pressure at times.
1. Shut down Duke Johnson. Miami's Duke Johnson has run for over 1500 yards at 7 yards per carry on the season. If he does as expected and foregoes his final year of eligibility, he's considered a possible first-round draft pick, perhaps even on the same level as bigger names such as Melvin Gordon considering that Johnson is not only a great runner but also an elite receiver as a tailback. If the Gamecocks let Johnson have a field day, it will be a long afternoon. The good news is that Carolina's defense against downhill running has improved somewhat in recent weeks, but Carolina hasn't faced a back like Johnson.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't have a good feeling about this game. With some coaches possibly thinking about their next gig, I don't expect a focused performance from Carolina. I predict that Miami wins by two scores.