Every Friday before every Gamecocks game, I’ll dive into the matchup and give you my thoughts on what South Carolina needs to do to win. I’ll also pick the game’s winner and the score. This week, it’s game one of the 2017 season as the Gamecocks meet the Wolfpack at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Neutralize the Wolfpack defensive front
Everyone has already mentioned the defensive front that the Pack have, and for good reason. Last year, this would have the makings of a disaster waiting to happen as I doubt the offensive line would be able to handle a guy like Bradley Chubb very well. While Chubb gets all the mention, this team has a very talented cast beside him on the line and a dynamic senior corps at LB behind them. I feel that the OL will be improved this year under Eric Wolford, and they’ll get a stiff test right out of the gate tomorrow. If they fail, then it will be a long day.
Keep Jake Bentley protected
Key #2 ties into key #1 nicely. If the offensive line is handling the Wolfpack pass rush, then that will give Jake Bentley more time to operate. Not only that, but getting the 2017 season off to a nice start will be a boost to his psyche as the season progresses. One of the things SEC fans will be watching closely is to see how the sophomore develops over the course of the year and whether or not he can stake his claim as not only one of the top throwers in the conference, but as a true leader for this program at a position where they’ve not had a whole lot of success at over the past couple of years. Allowing opposing pass rushes to rush him into poor decisions and rack up their sack totals could stunt his growth and put the Gamecocks in a precarious situation. It will also leave him highly susceptible to injury, which isn’t a great situation to be in when your backup quarterback has thrown only one pass in his career.
Exploit a young Wolfpack secondary
Let’s face it. The Wolfpack’s secondary is, well, a little thin. One of the starting corners is a converted wide receiver (backed up by a redshirt senior that has mainly played on special teams coverage and a redshirt freshman) and the other is a sophomore that played in eleven games last year, starting one (backed up by a redshirt freshman). That’s the situation N.C. State was forced into when senior Mike Stevens was ruled out for tomorrow (lower leg). It’s also a ready-made opportunity for Kurt Roper to dial up packages that force the Pack’s starting corners (Nick McCloud and Johnathan Alston) to make plays against Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel outside. If Edwards and Samuel are successful in taking McCloud and Alston out of the game, it sets up nicely for the passing game to have a great afternoon.
Make things uncomfortable for Ryan Finley
Finley’s TD to INT ratio was 18 to 8 last year. That’s pretty good. However, the result of this game may depend on which Finley shows up. Will it be the one that went 20-29 for 340 yards against Syracuse? Or will it be the one that went 20-44 for only 210 yards and zero touchdowns against Miami (Fla.)? There’s been talk of the Gamecocks’ pass rush and whether or not it will be up to the task in 2017, so hopefully they and the secondary don’t make Finley next in a list of QBs over the past few years that have gone on to pick them apart and rack up enormous stats against them.
I’m going to be that guy and give it to N.C. State right now. It’s not that I don’t think the Gamecocks will win (and if they do, it would hardly qualify as an upset), but I feel that the Wolfpack have just enough in the talent department to come away with a W to start their season. Wolfpack 27, Gamecocks 24 in a close one.
What are your keys and pick for this matchup? Let us know in the comments!