On Saturday (2:30 P.M., CBS), the Missouri Tigers (2-1, 0-1) go on the road for the first time this season to take on the #7/#8 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0) in Southeastern Conference action. South Carolina comes into this contest off of a 49-6 home win over UAB.
"South Carolina is a very, very good football team," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, as his team prepares to travel to Columbia (SC) to take on the Gamecocks. "I'm very impressed with the job that Steve (Spurrier) has done with that program. They're very, very talented on both sides of the football."
Spurrier's Gamecocks feature an outstanding defensive line that is the anchor for a South Carolina defense that is ranked 6th in the NCAA against the run, and is allowing just 53 rushing yards/game. The Gamecocks are ranked 7th nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 9.67 points/game through three games. Their best defensive player is sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney 6'6" 256, who last week was selected as the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week. Against UAB, Clowney registered 7 tackles, including 3.5 Tackles-For-Loss, and 2 QB sacks. Through three games this season, Clowney has 13 total tackles, and he leads his team with 5.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 QB Hurries.
South Carolina runs a 4-3 defense that utilizes a hybrid LB/DB called a Spur. Senior Devonte Holloman 6'2" 241 (6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 Pass Break-Up) mans that Spur position, and it appears likely that he'll remain on the field in passing situations.
Up front, the Gamecocks utilize a "Rabbit" personnel package in passing situations that features four defensive ends. In addition to Clowney, that grouping includes senior starting DE Devin Taylor 6'8" 267 (9 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU, 1 QBH), and back-up DEs, senior Aldrick Fordham 6'4" 269 (8 tackles, 1sack, 1 QBH), and junior Chaz Sutton 6'5" 248 (6 tackles, 2 sacks). Their base defensive front includes sophomore DT Kelcy Quarles 6'4" 286 (12 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 QBH), and senior DT Byron Jerideau 6'1" 316 (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH).
"Their defensive front is really outstanding," said Coach Pinkel, talking about South Carolina's defensive line. "I mean, they're really outstanding! Very impressive!"
The defensive line is the strength of South Carolina's defense, and will prove to be Missouri's toughest match-up. Clowney and Taylor are being touted as All-American candidates, and both are on the preseason watch lists for multiple awards. This week, Coach Spurrier has talked about trying to get more speed and athleticism on the field against Missouri's spread offense.
The Gamecocks are extremely experienced at the LB position, with five seniors among their top six LBs. One of those seniors, starting WLB Shaq Wilson 5'11" 224, is South Carolina's leading tackler, with 18 total tackles, including 1 TFL, and he also has 2 interceptions to go along with a pair of QBHs.
Like Wilson, starting MLB Reginald Bowens 6'3" 254 (11 tackles, 1 Forced Fumble, and 1 Recovered Fumble), and their back-ups, WLB Quin Smith 6'1" 239 (10 tackles, 1 sack), and Damario Jeffery 6'4" 233 (9 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 QBH), are instrumental in stopping the run game, although they will at times rush the quarterback. True freshman Spur LB/DB Jordan Diggs 6'0" 197 is Holloman's back-up and he has made 5 tackles on the season, including 1 TFL. He and Holloman will be challenged in pass coverage this week, as they will often be matched up in the slot.
Coach Spurrier has emphasized all week that against Missouri, the Gamecocks need to stop the run. South Carolina is not a big blitzing team, although they will at times bring an extra linebacker or two. Through three games, only one South Carolina defensive back has recorded a sack.
That would be sophomore safety Brison Williams 5'11" 205, the team's fifth-leading tackler with 12 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 INTerception, and 1 PBU. Williams' usual running mate, senior starting Free Safety D.J. Swearinger, who is also the QB of the secondary, has been suspended for this game by the league for a hit he delivered last week. The Gamecocks have a true freshman stepping in at FS., in T.J. Gurley 5'10" 183 (6 tackles, mostly on special teams), who will have his hands full in his first career start.
"He's a true freshman, but a really good player that we believe will play well," said Coach Spurrier, speaking of Gurley earlier this week. "He's been with us since this summer. He's been here a while. He's a quick learner, a tough kid, and a good athlete. He can play football. He's on almost all of the special teams, which tells you that he can run and make tackles. Our scheme isn't too complicated. We think he can play well. He's played a little behind D.J. Hopefully, he's ready to go out there and play well."
Junior corner Jimmy Legree 6'0" 189 is the Gamecocks' second-leading tackler, with 15 total tackles on the season, including 1 TFL. He also has an INT, and 3 PBUs to his credit. Sophomore Victor Hampton 5'10" 197 (6 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at the other corner, and RSF Ahmed Christian 5'10" 189 (6 tackles, 1 PBU) is the back-up at both corners.
"What we've done so far this year is play just tremendous red-zone defense," explained Coach Spurrier. "We've only given up 2 touchdowns."
Sophomore punter Tyler Hull arrived on South Carolina's campus in August from Surry Community College. Through three games, he's averaging 38.9 yards/punt.
As Coach Spurrier said earlier this week, South Carolina doesn't kick a lot of field goals. Fifth-year senior kicker Adam Yates is 1-2 on FGAs this season.
"We never were a big field goal team," said Coach Spurrier. "Usually, the team that scores touchdowns is much better off…………………………………………… We've been a lot better with Marcus (Lattimore) here and the ability to run. The first four or five years, we couldn't run much from the 4 or 5-yard line. Now we can, so that's helpful."
Then, Coach Spurrier talked about the rationale for going for it on fourth down.
"All of the statistics say that you should go for it on fourth down," explained Coach Spurrier. "It makes sense to go for them, I think."
Junior TB Marcus Lattimore 6'0" 218 is the key to South Carolina's offense. The preseason All-American is being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate. In 2010, he was named the SEC and National Freshman of the Year, and is healthy again this year after missing the second half of 2011 with a knee injury. In week one of this season, Lattimore was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week. Through three games, including two lop-sided wins over lesser competition, Lattimore has carried the football 48 times for 235 yards rushing (4.9 yards/carry, 78.3 yards/game) and 4 TDs. He's also the Gamecocks' third-leading receiver, with 6 receptions for 33 yards.
When Lattimore needs a breather, the Gamecocks turn to senior TB Kenny Miles 5'9" 193 (11 carries for 34 yards, 3.1 yards/carry), or true freshman TB Mike Davis 5'9" 216 (7 carries for 98 yards and 1 TD, 14 yards/carry). One thing is for sure, South Carolina intends to run the football. Thus far, the gamecocks have run the football on 58 % of their plays from scrimmage. As a team, South Carolina averages 4.6 yards/carry on the ground.
It's this ground and pound approach that sets up South Carolina's play action passing.
Like Missouri, South Carolina's starting QB has already missed time due to injury, and the Gamecocks have had to rely on their back-up QB to take a significant number of snaps. Junior starting QB Connor Shaw 6'1" 207 is a dual-threat, although it's his ability to run the football that is his calling card. Playing with a fractured scapula he suffered during the Gamecocks' week one 17-13 win over Vanderbilt, Shaw has averaged 4.5 yards/carry on 19 rushing attempts, and is 15-25-2 (60%) for 174 yards and 1 TD passing (passer efficiency rating of 115.66).
Sophomore back-up QB Dylan Thomas 6'3' 212 has played in all three games for South Carolina, and he's played well enough that some within Gamecock Nation would like to see more of him. He's not a runner, but he's thrown the ball pretty well, although most of his passing numbers, 26-50-0 (52%) for 507 yards and 5 TDs (170.18 passer efficiency rating) have come against lesser competition. Shaw is expected to get the start against Missouri.
"There's no question that running with the football is what Connor (Shaw) does which makes him a good quarterback," explained Coach Spurrier. "If he plays, he'll run some. If he can't run it, I don't think he's quite as effective. We believe he'll be able to run some."
At times, South Carolina lines up with a fullback, but through three games, their fullback has not touched the football. He's in there to block for Lattimore. At times, the Gamecocks are utilizing two TEs. Sophomore TE Rory Anderson 6'5" 218 is more of a pass-catching threat, with 5 receptions for 93 yards (18.6 yards/reception) and 2 TDs. Senior TE Justice Cunningham 6'4" 264 has 1 reception for 20 yards.
The Gamecocks do have some speed on the outside, although not as much size. Their top wide-receivers are sophomore Bruce Ellington 5'9" 197 (9 receptions, 17.9 yards/reception), junior Ace Sanders 5'8" 175 (7 receptions, 10.3 yards/reception, 1 TD), sophomore Damiere Byrd 5'9" 168 (4 receptions, 47 yards/reception, 1 TD), true freshman Shaq Roland 6'1" 173 (3 receptions, 18.3 yards/reception, 1 TD) and senior D.L. Moore 6'5" 198 (2 receptions, 22.5 yards/reception, 2 TDs). Byrd is a sprinter in track, and he has saved 2 TDs on the kickoff coverage unit by running an opposing return man down from behind. All Moore does is catch touchdowns. Sanders is South Carolina's punt returner, and his 15 yards/punt return suggest he's a pretty good one. South Carolina has yet to return a kickoff.
Earlier this week, Coach Spurrier said that the Gamecocks' offensive line has not played very well and that those jobs are open to competition. Then on Tuesday he said that there may be as many as two new starters along the Gamecocks' offensive line when they take the field against Missouri. He wants to be able to run the football.
"(Our run blocking) is not very good most of the time," said Coach Spurrier this week. "We don't really move the line of scrimmage, you know what I mean? When the ball is snapped, some of our guys go backwards. That's real disappointing………………………………………….. We wish we could control the line of scrimmage a little bit more……………………………………………… (In pass protection), we've had blown assignments up front, so we have to do a better job as coaches of teaching people what to do………………………………….. (This week), we'll probably have a different starter or two in there………………………………………….. We're not dead set right now in the O-line. That's for sure. We're still experimenting, trying to figure out who our best players are."
Through three games, South Carolina's QBs have been sacked nine times.
[NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
380.33 [78th]___ Total Offense___ 433.67 [48th]
163.00 [63rd]___Rushing Offense__ 171.67 [60th]
6____________TDs Rushing___________ 6
217.33 [75th]___Passing Offense_ _ 262.00 [43rd]
118.29 [97th]__ Passing Efficiency__ 162.73 [21st]
4____________TDs Passing___________ 8
35.33 [T-37th]___Scoring Offense__ 38.00 [T-27th]
291.33 [20th]___ Total Defense___ 315.33 [29th]
94.67 [21st]___ Rushing Defense____53.00 [6th]
4_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 0
196.67 [40th]___Passing Defense__ 262.33 [88th]
121.98 [56th]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 117.51 [42nd]
5_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 2
23.67 [T-64th]___Scoring Defense____ 9.67 [7th]
+2.00 [5th]___ Turnover Margin__ +0.67 [38th]
5 / 2________ Fumbles/Lost________ 4 / 3
2_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 2
4_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 5
24.33 [31st]___Kickoff Return Avg._ _ 0.00 [120th]
23.18 [6th]____ Punt Return Avg.___ 14.57 [28th]
35.93 [77th]___ Net Punting Avg.___ 34.07 [96th]
3.00 [T-15th]_____Sacks By______ 4.00 [6th]
1.67 [T-52nd]___ Sacks Allowed___ 3.00 [T-104th]
29:20 [71st]___ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 28:02 [90th]
34.0% [97th]___3rd Down Conv._ 43.6% [T-56th]
37.5% [T-81st]__4th Down Conv._ 50.0% [T-53rd]