East Carolina will soon be in town for a big game against our South Carolina Gamecocks. The Pirates are likely a much better team than the one USC blew out of the stadium in 2012, and if the Gamecocks' game against Texas A&M is any indication, USC might be significantly worse.
Still, there's hope in the air after Steve Spurrier and his staff announced intentions to address personnel issues by shaking up the depth chart and to modify their schematic approach based on problems they observed against the Aggies.
Here's what I think we need to see tomorrow night.
Three Keys to Victory
3. Seek balance on offense. Offense wasn't the problem against A&M, but it didn't play up to potential, and given the kind of defense Carolina fielded against A&M, it may be necessary for the USC offense to be at the top of its game against any opponent with a pulse. The first order of business for Dylan Thompson and company is to establish more balance; the USC run game needs to produce at a higher level against ECU in order to give the defense plenty of rest and to set up favorable down-distance situations for Thompson.
2. Tackle better. This one ties in with number one, but it was a significant enough problem to deserve to be singled out. Carolina--particularly its linebackers but also the safeties and corners--must do a better job of bringing down ball carriers at the first opportunity. Part of the problem last week was that A&M receivers often had way too much space to run after the catch, but when Carolina played well in coverage, it too frequently didn't tackle well when a reception was made close to a defender. There were several plays where Carolina failed to get off the field for this reason. That has to change against ECU.
1. Resolve coverage issues. Whether the problem was schematic or personnel-based, USC's defense failed miserably in pass coverage against A&M. Carolina defenders were frequently out of position, allowing A&M receivers too many easy receptions with plenty of room to run after the catch. Like A&M, ECU's offense will revolve around the short-passing game. Can Carolina deny more short receptions and/or bring down the receiver at the point of the catch rather than allowing him to run for several yards after the catch?
While I'm seriously worried about what might happen in this game if a failure to improve on defense combines with a mistake-prone offense, I also like this staff's history of regrouping after losses over the past four seasons. Carolina has had some big wins coming off losses over the this span: Alabama after Auburn and Florida after Arkansas in 2010, Florida after Arkansas in 2011, Tennessee after Florida in 2012, Mizzou after Tennessee in 2013. If our coaches get our players to play with urgency tomorrow, Carolina's talent should be good enough for a convincing victory. I'm thus predicting a hard-fought but surprisingly solid 38-27 victory.