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South Carolina at No. 17 Texas A&M: Three Keys to Victory

Can we just have Arkansas back?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks are set to take on another ranked foe this weekend, this time in the form of the confounding Texas A&M Aggies, who have so far resisted any attempt to allow USC to grab a win in this “rivalry.” With the Aggies still riding high over that head-turning upset against then-No. 1 Alabama, the Gamecocks will have their work cut out for them in a noisy Kyle Field. Here’s how they can come away with an upset of their own.

The run defense needs a good day. A&M hasn’t been quite as pass-happy as they typically are, relying instead on a two-headed rushing attack led by Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane, who have combined for 1,112 rushing yards (good for second in the conference by a running back tandem). While the Gamecocks do have a much better run defense than A&M’s previous opponent in Missouri, South Carolina has still struggled to contain rushers against more talented and experienced teams, like Georgia and Kentucky. The Gamecock secondary, which was long expected to be a weakness before the season started and then turned in some admirable performances, is finally starting to show some of the cracks folks were worried about. This is as good a time as any for the defensive line and linebackers to step up.

Give Zeb Noland literally anything to work with. The Legend of Zeb will continue this week, and reading between the lines of recent coachspeak, the playbook is a little more open with him. Of course, that doesn’t really matter if the receivers leave their hands at home and if the offensive line can’t provide adequate holes for the backs or protection for the quarterback. The story of this season has been South Carolina’s absolutely woeful performance on offense, and while I don’t expect a veteran to suddenly solve all its problems — we already know, after all, what Noland’s limitations are — I’m curious to see if a more cohesive identity develops behind a quarterback who, at the very least, isn’t playing injured and could provide more consistent play. From a playcalling standpoint, I’d also love to see some creativity — and I mean the kind that doesn’t involve rolling out a defensive end to throw a pop pass on the 1-yard line.

Once again, I am asking South Carolina to consider committing fewer penalties. Given the raucous environment the Gamecocks will be in, I have no doubt procedural penalties will nip at them at times, but this is one extremely glaring (yet also very achievable) area of improvement. South Carolina drew a whopping 10 flags for 78 yards against Vanderbilt on its own field for Homecoming weekend, and while the Gamecocks may have gotten away with it considering their 21-20 win, they only barely pulled it off. It’s no secret that you have to limit mistakes when you’re playing a superior team, and while sometimes a defender just makes a great play on a ball or a fumble bounces the wrong way, penalties are absolutely under your control. I’d love to see South Carolina finally start getting a handle on this.