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ECU Pirates at South Carolina Gamecocks: Questions remain for Gamecocks after lackluster 10-point win

Gamecocks will need to play better to beat Georgia next week.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

While I'm happy that we beat ECU in relatively convincing fashion, the Gamecocks didn't answer many questions heading into a game against Georgia that's a must-win if Carolina is to stay in the divisional race in the SEC East. The Gamecocks had two big questions to answer after the ugly loss against Texas A&M: Can Dylan Thompson play well enough for us to have an elite offense, and can the defense resolve enough of its myriad problems for Carolina to be able to stop good offenses with any kind of consistency?

Let's start with Thompson. Statistically, Thompson had a solid game: 25-38 for 266 yards and a touchdown. However, statistics don't tell the whole story with Thompson's performance. Many of Thompson's completions, particularly in the second half, came on wide receiver screens. ECU had trouble shedding blocks on the perimeter, making these plays successful for Carolina. On the one hand, it was nice to see Carolina move the ball effectively with these plays and thus not to have to open up the playbook too much the week before the visit from Georgia.

On the other hand, it's unlikely we'll be able to run these plays over and over again for positive results against teams with good enough defensive talent on the perimeter to shed blocks and tackle in space better than ECU. Beating UGA is going to require Thompson to be effective throwing the ball downfield, and Thompson continued to struggle in that regard against ECU. He frequently overthrew receivers in the medium passing game, and he tanked a promising opportunity to blow the game open at the end of the first half by twice getting greedy and going deep into double coverage instead of taking what the defense gave him. Thompson had some good throws here and there, too, but they were too infrequent for me to feel more confident that he's going to have the kind of year necessary for our offense to transcend our defense's struggles.

As for that defense, it played moderately better in coverage, and Sharrod Golightly and T.J. Gurley made a couple of nice interceptions on bad throws from the ECU QB. The defense also did a good job of holding ECU to field goals once the Pirates got into the red zone. However, ECU still gained a ton of yards, principally by exploiting open spots in the middle of the field. For all the concern about our corners, I thought they played better in this game, particularly when they were allowed to play press-man coverage. The bigger problem was the play of the supposedly better-prepared safeties. Chris Moody particularly caught my eye as a player who was frequently out of position and looked tentative trying to finish plays. With both Rico McWilliams and Chris Lammons playing well, I wonder if there's any chance that we could move Brison Williams back to safety. McWilliams and Lammons at corner and Williams and Gurley at safety seems like our best bet back there right now. As for the linebackers, they tackled better in this game, but they weren't much help in coverage.

In short, I don't feel very confident about the UGA game. Carolina often plays one of its best games of the year against UGA and the coaches usually have a good gameplan, but the Gamecocks will need to play much, much better than they have thus far for this game to be competitive.