Getting the most points at home in recent memory, the Gamecocks enter Williams Brice tomorrow afternoon as 17.5-point underdogs against the Aggies.
You’ve already seen some reasons for optimism, but I’m going to breakdown what I think are the three keys to the game if South Carolina is to pull off the upset against the No. 10 team in the country.
Keys to the Game
Run the Ball
The best way to defend Texas A&M’s No. 9-ranked offense? Keep them off the field.
Bend-don’t-break may have worked against East Carolina, but you can bet that a tired Gamecock defense, with little support from their offensive counterparts, won’t be as fortunate against the Aggies.
If Carolina’s offense can avoid three-and-outs, move the ball and try to win time of possession, they give the defense a better chance of stopping, or at least stalling, the A&M attack.
The Aggie defense is ranked No. 42 in the country in yielding 128 rushing yards per game, while the Gamecock offense is fifth-to-last in ypg on the ground with just 90.8.
It’s a tall order as Carolina had trouble moving the ball on Kentucky’s less-than-stellar defensive unit, but to hang with A&M, Carolina has to count on running backs David Williams, A.J. Turner and possibly true freshman Rico Dowdle (making his debut).
Did I mention that guy Myles Garrett for A&M? Yeah, he could throw a wrench in these plans.
Disrupt the Rhythm
The A&M offense seems to have found its groove after an off 2015 campaign, now ranking No. 9 in the country in total offense with 546 ypg.
Senior quarterback Trevor Knight has been underrated and solid for the Aggies thus far this season - tossing 7 touchdowns to A&M’s countless NFL-bound receivers and just 2 interceptions, but completing just 53.2% of his passes, the lowest average of his career.
Entering the game such heavy favorites with a home game against No. 11 Tennessee looming next weekend, one can hope the Gamecocks can catch the Aggie offense sleepwalking - potentially taking advantage of the former Sooner QB’s less-than-stellar completion percentage.
With the Aggies averaging nearly 270 ypg on the ground, the Gamecock defense will need at least one break to slow them down and give the Carolina offense a chance to keep up.
Put them in 3rd and long. Stop a 4th down attempt. A huge interception. A busted play. Cause whatever chaos you can to throw off the tempo and keep the crowd in the game.
It’s an opportunistic and much improved South Carolina defense that’s forced 7 turnovers this season, but they’ll need to put on their best performance thus far to keep A&M in check.
The Gamecock offense simply cannot afford to turn the ball over if they’re to win this game.
I’ve seen many people talk about how they’d prefer to see Brandon McIlwain throw over the middle and get picked off than play it safe all game. I’m going to partially disagree here.
Now, if the Gamecocks find themselves in a 21-0 hole in the second quarter, by all means, chuck it around. Go nuts. If we’re 5 minutes into a 0-0 game, I’m firmly entrenched in the play it safe camp.
If the Carolina offense is to keep pace, or even stay within striking distance of A&M, they can’t give A&M extra possessions. I’m of the belief that a strong defense can always give you a chance, and if the Gamecock D plays well, the offense must take care of the ball.
Part of me says, “Remove the garnet glasses, Daniel, and give these people an impartial , objective score prediction.”
The other part of me says, “How late is the pizza place at Love Field open?” Then the other part of me remarks, “Objective analysis be damned - give these people what they want!”
Give me the Gamecocks 31-27. Realistically, it will take Carolina’s best shot, but I just have a weird feeling that the ball may bounce our way a couple times Saturday.