On Saturday (6:00 P.M., ESPN2), the #5 Missouri Tigers (7-0, 3-0) play host to the #21 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2) in SEC action. Missouri is coming off of a 36-17 home win over Florida, while South Carolina comes in off of a 21-23 loss at Tennessee.
This is a big game for both teams, especially with respect to the race for the SEC East Division title and a chance to play in Atlanta in December. A Missouri win would give the Tigers a 2-game lead with the tie-breaker in hand over their closest division challengers, while a South Carolina win would give the Gamecocks the tie-breaker over Missouri and pull Coach Steve Spurrier’s team to within one game of the division lead.
“So it's a huge game for us,” Coach Spurrier said, speaking of playing at Missouri. “It’s a game that is going to decide whether or not we are in the division hunt. It’s as simple as that. I think all of our players know that and we’ve talked about that briefly. Hopefully, we can regroup and go out to Missouri and play our best game of the year.”
Coach Spurrier’s Gamecocks are capable.
“Steve Spurrier’s done a great job with that program,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. “They’re a very, very physical football team, like everybody is in the SEC. It’s just the week-in-and week-out of, you know, playing the high-level football which makes the SEC great. They know how to win, and they could very easily be undefeated right now, too………………………………………. We expect them to play great. And, they have a great team.”
South Carolina ranks 8th in the SEC in scoring (32.6 points/game). They’re 6th in the conference in scoring defense (22.7 points/game). The Gamecocks rank 5th in the SEC in total offense (471.9 yards/game), and they’re 3rd in the conference in total defense (342.6 yards/game).
South Carolina’s 224.6 rushing yards/game ranks 3rd in the SEC, which is not far behind Missouri’s 234.4 yards/game on the ground. Earlier this week, Coach Spurrier pointed out that when his team runs the ball well, they usually win, unless they turn it over, as they did at Tennessee. South Carolina is 12th in the conference in turnover margin (-0.29 turnovers /game).
“To beat Missouri, we’ve got to take care of the ball better,” explained Coach Spurrier.
Like everyone else in the SEC midway through the season, South Carolina is a little banged up. They have an injury or two up front on either side of the football, and their most notable injury is to their starting QB. Earlier this week, Coach Spurrier said that Connor Shaw might “be able to dress and be a back-up” this week, but that Shaw’s back-up, 6’3” 218-pound junior QB Dylan Thompson will get the start.
“Dylan is definitely going to start the game,” said Coach Spurrier. “And it will be his game to go with.”
Thompson is not the runner that Shaw is, but most observers think he's a better passer. He’s an experienced, veteran QB. On the season, Thompson is 29-51-2 for 421 yards and 2 TDs passing. He seems to like to go down field more than Shaw. Other than that, the biggest difference I see with South Carolina when Thompson plays instead of Shaw is in the red zone, where Shaw is a more serious run threat than Thompson.
“I think Dylan’s ready, and he’s taking all of the snaps now,” explained Coach Spurrier. “I don’t think Connor’s going to be a hundred-percent. But, he loves to play, as you know.…………………………………. I think it’s time to let Dylan see what he can do, and go from there………………………………………. Right now, Connor’s knee is going to bother him a little bit, but he’s going to say he can play. But, I just sort of feel like let’s give Dylan a shot, and see what happens.”
What’s going to happen is that South Carolina is going to run the football. On the season, the Gamecocks have run the football on more than 60% of their offensive plays. Back-up RB Brandon Wild has missed several games, and he’s not listed on the Depth Chart for this week, so the load will fall to the Gamecocks’ workhorse, 5’9” 215-pound sophomore RB Mike Davis, who thus far this season has rushed for 879 yards and 10 TDs on 132 carries (6.7 yards/carry). His 125.6 rushing yards/game leads the SEC. And with 17 receptions, Davis is South Carolina’s fourth-leading receiver, so he’s also very much a threat out of the backfield.
“I think Mike Davis is a great tailback,” said Missouri Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel. “I think he’s explosive. He’s got great speed. He’s got great change of direction. And, he’s also very physical.”
While Davis has been the workhorse on the ground, with 43% of South Carolina’s carries and 56% of their rushing yards, Coach Spurriers’ Gamecocks have spread the ball around in the passing game, as 8 different players have averaged at least 1 reception/game. South Carolina’s top three receivers are 5’9” 196-pound junior WR Bruce Ellington (21 receptions for 332 yards and 3 TDs), 5’9” 166-pound junior WR Damiere Byrd (19 receptions for 384 yards and 3 TDs), and 5’7” 174-pound junior WR Nick Jones (19 receptions for 195 yards and 3 TDs).
South Carolina runs the football, and runs the football. Then, they fake a hand-off, and throw the football off of play-action. If they’re successful running the football, their play-action is much more effective. The Gamecocks play a couple of tight ends, including 6’5” 242-pound junior Rory Anderson (10 receptions for 123 yards) and 6’6” 237-pound sophomore Jerell Adams (5 receptions for 110 yards).
South Carolina plays a base 4-3 defense, and much like Missouri, the strength of their defense is their front four. Their right defensive end, 6’6” 274-pound junior Jadeveon Clowney, is generally considered to be a lock as a top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Clowney hasn’t been quite as productive this year, with just 18 tackles, including 5.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks, to go along with 6 QB hurries and a forced fumble this season. Teams have game-planned to try to off-set Clowney's impact.
“Clowney’s a great player,” said Coach Pinkel. “Everybody has some kind of a plan for him. And, we'll have our (plan). The problem is with that team, they’ve got a lot of good players. Their front guys are really, really good! So, they present a lot of problems.................................................. The problem is that you’ve got a problem on the other side, too.”
The guy on the other side is 6’5” 263-pound senior DE Chaz Sutton, who has recorded 19 tackles, including 6.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks, to go along with 2 QB hurries.
South Carolina rotates 4 defensive tackles, including the Gamecocks’ sack-leader, 6’4” 298-pound junior Kelsey Quarles, who has garnered 19 tackles, including a team-leading 7 TFLs and 5 sacks. He’s also been credited with 1 pass-break-up, 2 QB hurries, and a forced fumble. Alongside of Quarles is 6’2” 307-pound junior DT J.T. Surratt, with 21 tackles on the season, including 2.5 TFLs.
South Carolina has 15 players with at least 15 tackles on the season, and 18 players with at least 10 tackles, an indication of the Gamecocks’ defensive depth, and the way that they gang tackle and run to the football.
With 32 total tackles each, 6’1’ 225-pound sophomore LB Marcquis Roberts and 6’0” 187-pound senior corner Jimmy Legree lead the Gamecocks. Roberts also has 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 PBU, and 1 forced fumble. Legree has 5.5 TFLs, 2 PBUs, 2 interceptions, and he’s forced 1 fumble.
Joining Roberts in the rotation is a quartet of productive LBs for the Gamecocks, including 6’2” 205-pound freshman Skai Moore (30 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks), 6’2” 228-pound RSF T.J. Holloman (29 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 QBH, 1 INT, 1 PBU), 6’0” 221-pound sophomore Kaiwan Lewis (27 tackles, 2 TFLs), and 5’10” 195-pound junior Spur LB Sharrod Golightly (27 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 PBUs). The Spur is a LB/DB hybrid.
Joining Legree in the backfield are 5’11” 218-pound junior safety Brison Williams (27 tackles, 0.5 TFL), 5’10” 196-pound sophomore safety T.J. Gurley (27 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU), and 5’10” 202-pound junior corner Victor Hampton (16 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 INTs, 1 PBU).
South Carolina plays more zone than man-to-man. But, they mix things up, and they do a good job of disguising their coverages.
The Gamecocks have given up an average of 5.4 yards/play, which ranks 6th in the conference, including 4.0 yards/rushing attempt and 7.0 yards/pass attempt. In the red zone, South Carolina has surrendered 17 TDs out of 28 opponent forays inside their red zone (61%). Statistical Comparison (NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
513.4 (11)______Total Offense______471.9 (29)
234.4 (15)_____ Rushing Offense____ 224.6 (19)
279.0 (30)______Passing Offense_____247.3 (54)
152.66 (24)_____Pass Efficiency_____153.69 (21)
44.3 (8)________Scoring Offense_____32.6 (49)
381.0 (50)_______Total Defense_____ 342.6 (21)
116.6 (19)______ Rushing Defense____143.3 (42)
264.4 (100)___Passing Yds. Allowed___199.3 (19)
117.89 (34)____Pass Efficiency Def. __ 133.07 (78)
22.1 (33)_______Scoring Defense______22.7 (39)
1.4 (T-5)_______Turnover Margin_____ -0.3 (85)
0.484 (28)_____3rd Down Conv. Pct___0.495 (20)
0.667 (T-18)___4th Down Conv. Pct___ 0.688 (16)
0.364 (40)______3rd Conv Pct.Def.____0.367 (42)
0.868 (41)______Red Zone Offense___0.840 (T-64)
0.875 (93)______Red Zone Defense___0.857 (T-80)
35.44 (95)_______Net Punting________32.33 (118)
4.67 (99)________Punt Returns________5.25 (95)
22.00 (56)______Kickoff Returns_____18.26 (T-111)
188 (8)_______First Downs Offense____163 (33)
142 (T-70)_____First Downs Defense___121 (T-29)
5.29 (T-42)____Fewest Penalties / Gm. __5.86 (T-62)
30:49 (42)_____Time of Possession_____ 31:54 (34)