Gameday (yay!), Kenny Chesney (huh?), and the Missouri Tigers are in town this weekend. The matchup reprises what was arguably the game of the season last year, when Connor Shaw came off the bench in Columbia, MO to lead the Gamecocks to an unlikely comeback victory over the Tigers. Although Mizzou was still able to take care of business down the stretch and win the SEC East, that memorable game has generated an incipient rivalry between the two Columbias, as Missouri players have mentioned their desire for revenge after last year's game left a bad taste in their mouths. Will this year's contest live up to expectations? Both teams have been hit-or-miss so far, but there's excitement in the air with the SEC East wide open and both teams very much in the thick of that race.
Let's take a closer look at what to expect.
Three Keys for Carolina
3. Take advantage of weak Missouri run defense
Last week in its surprising loss to Indiana, Missouri gave up 241 yards rushing on 50 attempts for a 4.8 ypc average. When you subtract QB rushing, those numbers become 246 yards on 44 attempts for 5.6 ypc. In short, Indiana had no trouble running against Missouri. The Hoosiers have a very good tailback in Tevin Coleman, but Carolina has the better depth chart at running back and is far superior on the offensive line. If Indiana's ground game was able to slice up Missouri like it did, Carolina's can, too. Indiana also found success targeting its running backs in the screen and short-passing game.
Doing the all of these things would help Carolina's downfield passing game, too, as Missouri's strength on defense is its pass rush. The less Dylan Thompson has to deal with third-and-long situations, the better.
2. Shore up coverage problems
Carolina's secondary seemed to be making incremental improvement each week until it gave up over 200 yards on 15-23 passing to what had previously been an atrocious Vanderbilt passing game. Who knows what those numbers would have been had Vandy's starting QB not left the game in the first quarter. Both corners and safeties were regularly caught out of position downfield, and the linebackers were abused by Vandy's tight ends. Can Carolina's pass coverage get back on the upswing? It will need to against a Mizzou offense that's going to spread the field and distribute the ball. Missouri's receiving corps isn't as daunting as it was a year ago, but it is a talented group led by Bud Sasser, who already has nearly 400 yards receiving on the year. Mizzou QB Maty Mauk is in the running for an All-SEC selection.
In addition to playing better in coverage, the Carolina defense needs to find ways to get pressure on Mauk, who will pick Carolina apart if given time in the pocket. Expect Lorenzo Ward to dial up plenty of blitzes in this game, particularly in Carolina's ends can't pressure Mauk early on, which is likely. Indiana was able to make Missouri's offensive line look bad last week, so this is a great opportunity for Carolina's pass rush to have a good game.
1. Tackle well in space
As said, Mizzou runs a spread offense and will seek to distribute the ball to its receivers in space all over the field. Carolina's back seven needs to continue showing improvement at tackling in space in order to limit yards after the catch.
Missouri has not been impressive this year. Mauk is a good quarterback and they have some talent at receiver, but this team has some huge holes that a mediocre-at-best Indiana team was able to fully exploit last week. The Tigers also struggled in their opener against and FCS squad, and while they looked good in blowing out Toledo and Central Florida, neither of those teams have done anything impressive this year. The Gamecocks have obviously had their share of ugly moments so far this season, too, but they have a complete enough offense to make you think they'll be able to score with ease against a Mizzou defense that was sliced up by Indiana. The Gamecocks defense is obviously a work in progress, but if it can at least get a few stops over the course of the game, we should be able to outscore the Tigers. The Carolina defense showed it can do that against ECU and UGA, both of which have offenses superior to that of Mizzou. As long as special teams don't fall apart again, I think we're good in this game. 45-31 Gamecocks.