The No. 7 Gamecocks return to SEC play this weekend as they welcome conference (and division) newcomer Missouri to town. This game is kind of a big deal for a lot of reasons:
- It’s a conference/divisional game
- Both teams are doing pretty well so far this season, though Mizzou’s not ranked
- Both teams have QB and o-line issues
- Both teams are from a town called Columbia
The last time these two teams met was in the 2005 Liberty Bowl, during Steve Spurrier’s first season at USC. They’ve played one other time, also in a bowl game, and Missouri won that time, too.
Clearly, there’s a lot on the line here. The Tigers have played against one SEC East team (Georgia) already this season, but that game was at home. This will be their first road test as a member of the conference, and it’ll definitely be a hostile environment. Carolina is looking to keep their undefeated season going and maintain a top position in the division.
The HBC announced earlier in the week that Connor Shaw will start under center for the Cocks, and hopefully he’ll be able to play most, if not all, of the game. Shaw started last week, had to leave the game, and said afterwards that he had a “crack” in his shoulder, but apparently he threw the ball around pretty well in practice this week, so he gets the nod. If things are going either really well or really not-so-well, I’m sure we’ll see Dylan Thompson get some snaps, too, but it’s Connor’s game.
As for Mizzou, usual starter James Franklin is also dealing with a shoulder issue. He missed last week’s game against ASU with inflammation in his shoulder, but said he’s 90 percent certain he’ll be starting Saturday afternoon. If Franklin can’t go or has to leave the game, Corbin Berkstresser will take his place.
Both teams have been less-than-pleased with the performances of their offensive lines thus far, and Spurrier noted earlier in the week, that coach Shawn Elliott has made a change in the Carolina squad. They need to do a better job at pretty much everything, but most importantly, they’ve got to protect the QB. They also need to make sure there are holes available for Marcus Lattimore, who will probably be relied on more in this game than he has been in previous games.
The Gamecocks will of course be without starting free safety D.J. Swearinger since the SEC suspended him for what they deemed to be a dangerous hit in last week’s UAB game. That’s obviously unfortunate, but the coaches have really talked up his replacement, T.J. Gurley, and the rest of the defense, who’s likely frustrated about missing a leader, will take that frustration out on the visiting Tigers. Swearinger will also be on the sideline and will undoubtedly be keeping his teammates – and the fans – pumped up.
Mizzou’s defense has allowed less than 600 yards through the air, which is why I said Lattimore may feature more prominently in this game. That being said, their defense isn’t quite the same caliber as ours.
My biggest concern, honestly, is the kicking game, which has been mediocre at best. I don’t know why we can’t get a decent punter, and I’m sure the guys are doing their best, but it’s been pitiful at times. Hopefully we can only go up, and we can start that ascent during this game.
South Carolina is favored to win by 10 points, and I’d be willing to bet that the final score will be that close, if not closer. The Cocks have the advantage of being at home in front of a super excited crowd, but the Tigers will be looking to make a statement. They hung with the Dawgs for the better part of three quarters, but then fell apart in the final 15 minutes and UGA left with the win.
This game won’t make or break the season for the Gamecocks, but it would obviously be better to come away with a victory. USC needs to come out strong and get on the board as soon as possible. If we can build a comfortable lead by halftime, all the better. If Missouri has a solid lead, though, things could get a bit more nerve-wracking.
All that being said, I think the Cocks will pull out a win. It’ll probably be close (something like 24-21), but I think the combination of being at home in Williams-Brice and having guys like Shaw (assuming he’s healthy enough), Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, Shaq Wilson, etc. will help us put up a W.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 ET and the game will be televised on CBS.