Last year James Franklin's road warriors won conference games at Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi. This year's road schedule begins at Williams-Brice Stadium where the Gamecocks will be trying to regroup after a fairly thorough beating at the hands of Georgia. South Carolina has opened the season a lot like we have – a demoralizing early conference loss, a highly-touted defense that has under-performed, and a question-mark offense that has clicked beyond expectations.
On the surface Connor Shaw seems to be the type of mobile, read option QB that gives our defense fits. We had a taste of this style QB against Ole Miss – and hopefully we learned something, because the read-option gave us trouble. Shaw, in any event, is a much more dangerous runner than Ole Miss' Bo Wallace. This is a big week for our defensive coaching staff. It does not help that our starting middle linebacker Chase Garnham wore a cast on the sidelines against Austin Peay. Shaw has gotten off to a good start and Mike Davis has stepped into Marcus Lattimore's shoes with a vengeance. He has a 75-yard run in each of his first two games. (Meanwhile, we are still haunted by a 75-yard run.) Nick Jones blossomed at WR against Georgia last week and Bruce Ellington is a legitimate threat as well.
At the same time, SC's defense spent the week-end sniping after getting picked apart by Aaron Murray. There is no shame in giving up points in bunches to Georgia – but the Gamecock's defensive coaches went after each other on national t.v. And a frustrated Jadaveon Clowney later publicly criticized the defensive scheme which allowed Georgia to simply run away from him all night. Look for Clowney to be better disguised next Saturday – and look for SC's D to be riled up.
But Georgia certainly revealed SC's vulnerabilities – scoring 41 points, and closing the game with a pride-crushing eight minute steamroller of a drive. Georgia's ability to both run and pass kept SC guessing and struggling. The big money question for us this week-end is – can we run? We have had great success throwing the ball and SC has some question marks in the secondary. But if our running game is anemic, it will allow SC to rush the passer and sit on the passing game all night. For whatever it's worth, last year we had serious trouble running on the Gamecocks. Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow combined for 22 yards on 9 carries – NFLer Zac Stacy did not fare a lot better. Austyn Carta-Samuels threw for 300 yards in the opener versus Ole Miss and could have named his number versus Austin Peay. He has looked very sharp so far, but this will be his first SEC road game. He could use some help from the running game.
The O-line, for its part, has provided solid pass protection, but the holes have not been there yet on the ground. We had a very vanilla offensive game plan against Austin Peay . . . I suspect we will be pulling out a bunch of tricks Saturday. It was also notable that Wesley Tate started but got relatively few carries last week – it was reminiscent of Coach Franklin's early season efforts to light a fire under Jordan Rodgers last year. Tate's bruising blocking talents might also favor some two back sets this week. If we can run a little versus SC, it will open up the passing game. It was hard not to notice that Georgia was blowing up SC's "non-Clowney" side all night. If we can run, even modestly, we can win this game.
There is another fairly well-hyped SEC game this week-end. Bama's visit to Texas A&M is the National Game of the Week. Leading up to this game, A&M's defense has been genuinely awful – but they have been dealing with a fair number of suspensions that are ending. Bama's offense was underwhelming in their opening game – and the trouble started at the O-line. Nick Saban has had a bye week to prepare for this road-trip. Bama will be much better. While it is hard to bet against Bama – Manziel gave them fits last year. Also, it will be a day game in the Texas heat – and Kevin Sumlin's spread offense could take a toll on Bama's defense. A Bama loss – which I would not count on – could open up a wild race in the West.
Speaking of hurry-up offenses in the Texas heat, Ole Miss brings its roadshow to Austin, to face Mack Brown's Longhorns. It was not good timing for Texas to fire their D-Coordinator right before this visit. Ole Miss presents a very challenging offense – and nobody knows that better than us. Texas is coming off a wholesale defensive melt-down at BYU. This is one of the most interesting college football games of the week. Texas is giving 2½ points in this one – but the Longhorns did massacre Ole Miss by 35 last season, so maybe there is a little logic to this line?
UT travels to Oregon. We will see what they really have this week. Oregon looked very scary at Virginia – but the Vols have opened solidly. The Vols are getting 27½ points, which is a lot more than they are accustomed to receiving. UK bounced back convincingly from its opening loss – but now gets Louisville. Given Louisville's very easy schedule, a win over any SEC team will be a feather in their cap. They will probably get their feather, but they may be scratching their heads at the mere 14 point spread. Finally, in a week where the SEC boasts a number of teams playing big games, MSU also visits Auburn. Both teams need this win badly – although MSU likely needs it worse. If Auburn wins, they might start believing they are for real; if MSU loses, the ship might start sinking.
Only two cupcakes this week. Arkansas, who squeezed past Samford last week, plays Southern Miss this week. When this game was scheduled, it was probably a fair fight – Southern Miss has fallen fast the last two years. LSU takes on Kent State. Georgia, Mizzou and Florida get byes.
Florida had an impressive number of turnovers and implosions in Miami territory en route to a loss last week. Georgia has already lost to Clemson. Commentators are beginning to murmur the SEC is slipping. It will be interesting to see how SEC teams fare out of conference this week – there are a couple of tall orders. Meanwhile, the national showcase game remains an SEC affair – it would help the conference for the Bama-A&M match-up to actually live up to its billing.