Welcome to this week’s question and answer session with the “enemy” of the week. This time around, we spoke to Josh Matejka, from our sister site Rock M Nation, about the South Carolina/Missouri matchup.
1. From an outsider’s perspective, what are some of the glaring weak links for the Gamecocks this week? Strengths?
Will Muschamp teams have always seemed to plant their stake in solid defense and opportunistic offense, and it looks like that might not be the case this year. I didn't get a chance to watch the NC State game last week, but I can say based on the box score and last year's Mayor's Cup tilt, I'm not too worried about Damarea Crockett or any of Mizzou's wide receivers breaking free for some big plays. Not that SC's defense is a glaring weakness, but it also doesn't scare me all too much.
That being said, the Gamecocks have a hell of an offensive trio in Bentley, Samuel and Dowdle. Mizzou's defense was less than inspiring last week, and if its not at least significantly better Saturday, those three guys will probably have their way up and down the Faurot turf. They scare me a lot.
2. How is Missouri’s defense planning on stopping Deebo Samuel?
Prayer? Voodoo rituals? Missouri State's Malik Earl gashed the secondary last week and DeMarkus Acy - the defacto No. 1 corner - looked lost most of the day. He's a better player than he was last week, but if he or Logan Cheadle can't do anything to slow Samuel down, it might be a situation where they let him get his and try to keep everyone else bottled up.
3. What’s the fan feeling about this match up?
Call us crazy here in Columbia west, but everyone seems to be optimistic, if not overly confident. Rock M has a pregaming piece going up Friday, and every contributor but one picked a Mizzou win. I think the general feeling is (a) the offense is very, very good (b) the defense can't be worse than it was last year i.e. not as bad as it was last week. I'd say most Mizzou fans are expecting a good game and win for their Tigers.
4. What are some of Missouri's weaknesses that South Carolina would be able to expose with their talented position groups?
As I said earlier, Deebo Samuel could very likely have a career day. Mizzou's secondary looked lost against an FCS offense last week and, while they're all chalking it up to a bad week of practice, I'd say Samuel will still be able to make some plays. Mizzou's run defense was abysmal last year and Rico Dowdle was able to capitalize. It didn't look much better last week, though there are some reasons for optimism moving forward. The defensive line got some good push against Missouri State's QB last week, but if they can't make Jake Bentley feel the heat, he'll likely pick apart an already struggling defense.
5. What South Carolina player makes you the most scared for Saturday?
Beating a dead horse here - I'll be seeing Deebo Samuel in my nightmares until Mizzou shows they can stop or at least contain him.
6. Was Missouri’s offense that good last week? Or, was Missouri State’s defense just that bad?
This may be a homer answer, but I'm going to say 90% part A, 10% part B. I don't know if SC fans knew this, but Missouri State is actually coached by Dave Steckel, Mizzou's defensive coordinator back in the days of Shane Ray, EJ Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. The man knows how to coach a defense. Yes, he has FCS talent now and Mizzou won't be racking up 800 yards and 70 points every week. But Barry Odom and Josh Heupel really have gathered a scary collection of offensive threats.
Lots of people point to the fact Drew Lock didn't replicate his success against SEC opponents last year, but forget that Damarea Crockett very much did. And even if Lock wasn't a world-beater, he significantly improved down the stretch of the 2016 campaign. J'Mon Moore is an All-SEC caliber receiver, and Jonathan Johnson might be even better as he grows. Demetrios Mason and Emanuel Hall will beat you if you don't watch them and Mizzou has 3 big tight ends they like to use in late down and red zone situations. The offense is good; it's just a matter of if its good enough to carry the defense.
7. Any big injuries that Gamecock fans should know about?
The Tiger staff is hoping to get Akial Byers - a 4-star freshman DE - back into the fold this week. If he plays, he'll see a lot of time on the field. And aside from DT AJ Logan's 6-week suspension and S Cam Hilton's first half targeting ban, Mizzou will have everyone take the field Saturday night.
8. Who’s winning this ball game?
I'm picking Mizzou 45-38, but I don't really feel great about it. My pick is mostly based on my hope that the defense isn't nearly as bad as it showed last week and my belief that there won't be many defenses that can slow the offense down. If the former doesn't out to be true though, Saturday will quickly turn into a shootout that could go either way. (p.s. he’s wrong about the score like the Backing the Pack guy, GO COCKS.)