The South Carolina Gamecocks look to follow up their impressive victory over Kentucky tomorrow night when they take on the “rival” Texas A&M Aggies, who have been a perennial thorn in South Carolina’s side ever since joining the SEC a decade ago. With the Aggies looking vulnerable of late, can the Gamecocks grab a second consecutive cathartic victory? Here’s what I’ll be watching for.
Carry over the momentum from Lexington. That the Gamecocks were idle last week was something of a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that South Carolina was able to rest, and also not get too keyed up after what was a cathartic and emotional upset on the road against Kentucky. The bad news, so to speak, is that the Gamecocks will now have to get back into the swing of things after a week off, which has likely cooled some of that fire. Historically, South Carolina has struggled to maintain momentum after netting a huge victory, so how — and whether — Shane Beamer can keep his troops appropriately motivated will be a key factor here. Come out too emotional, and A&M could take advantage of sloppy play; come out too flat, and it’s the same story. The Gamecocks need to find the right balance to keep improving without backsliding.
But seriously, find a way to start fast. Technically, South Carolina did get off to a blazing start against the Wildcats, forcing a fumble and cashing in on the turnover in less than 30 seconds of game time. However, the Gamecock offense still struggled to make the most of its opportunities in the first half, when a couple more touchdowns could have ended any notion of a Kentucky threat well before the final whistle. South Carolina operates too much in fits and starts to have much of a killer instinct, but it’d still be nice to see the offense clicking before the third quarter rolls around. Starting off on the right foot will be particularly paramount in this game, too — under Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies are undefeated when leading after the first quarter (!).
Stop the run. Other than its offensive woes, this team’s biggest Achilles heel has been its run defense, which currently ranks an abysmal 100th nationally and yields 174.7 yards per game. A&M has a history of road-grading the Gamecocks, and this year’s edition of the Aggies features Devon Achane, a dual-purpose player who is also a threat in the return game and so far has 152 all-purpose yards, good for second in the SEC. With the types of rushing totals that even lesser foes like Georgia State were able to rack up on the Gamecocks, it’s a real concern, and could allow a struggling offense like A&M’s to settle in and get more comfortable.