Tiger Opponent Preview: South Carolina

On Saturday (6:00 P.M., ESPN), the Missouri Tigers (3-1, 0-0) begin Southeastern Conference play when they travel to the other Columbia to take on the #13 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1, 2-1).

On Saturday (6:00 P.M., ESPN), the Missouri Tigers (3-1, 0-0) begin Southeastern Conference play when they travel to the other Columbia to take on the #13 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1, 2-1).

Missouri is coming in off of a 27-31 home loss to Indiana, while South Carolina is coming off of a 48-34 win at Vanderbilt.

“We’re not a very good team right now,” surmised South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier, following his teams’ 48-34 win at Vanderbilt. “The way we play is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing. And, I’m the head coach of this embarrassing group of guys.”

On Monday, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel put forth his own opinion of South Carolina.

“South Carolina is a very good football team,” said Coach Pinkel. “I've got great respect for Head Coach Steve Spurrier and what he has done there……………………………………………. They just keep getting better.”

Under Coach Spurrier, South Carolina runs a multiple offense. The Gamecocks are balanced offensively, but they’d like to run the football more often. So far this season, they’ve been involved in some shootouts.

So far, the Gamecocks haven’t been fully healthy at the running back position. Their feature back, the very talented 5’9” 223-pound junior RB Mike Davis was banged up coming out of camp and is just now getting healthy and rounding into form. Earlier this week, Coach Spurrier said the Gamecocks’ back-up RB, 6’2” 230-pound junior Brandon Wilds (40 carries for 210 yards and 1 TD, 5 receptions for 51 yards), is “doubtful” for this week’s game. On Tuesday, Wilds practiced in a no-contact jersey, but Coach Spurrier repeated that Wilds is “doubtful” for Missouri. If Wilds is unable to play, Davis will be backed up by 6’1” 222-pound RSF David Williams, who enters the Missouri game with 5 carries on the season. South Carolina’s kick returner, 5’8” 201-pound junior Shon Carson, could also line up in the backfield.

Davis is, simply put, a beast of a back. When healthy, he delivers the total package. He’s big and powerful, quick and elusive, and has great vision and speed. He’s also a terrific receiver out of the backfield. The only knock on Davis is that he’s had trouble staying healthy. This fall, he’s dealt with a strained hamstring and bruised ribs. But he appears to be healthy now.

The trigger man for South Carolina is 6’3” 218-pound fifth-year senior QB Dylan Thompson , who thus far on the season is 88-142-3 (62%) for 1140 yards (8.0 yards/pass attempt) and 11 TDs (150.75 passer efficiency rating). He’s not much of a threat to run the football (15 carries for 2 yards and 2 TDs), but he will take off. He’s a strong-armed pocket passer, who when he has time to throw and he can get into a rhythm, can be very accurate. This is Thompson’s first year as the starter, after having been the back-up for the past three seasons. He’s now 6-1 as a starter.

“Dylan Thompson’s always been a good player,” said Coach Spurrier. “He’s played every snap for us. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy the entire year. He’s just a good player. He can drop back and throw. He can move around a little bit. He can escape the rush occasionally. We just need to play better around him.”

“I think (Dylan Thompson) has gotten better with experience, just like anyone else does,” said Coach Pinkel. “I think he’s a really good player. He’s playing very well. Their offensive scheme is really good. They’re very good at what they do. I’m impressed with Steve Spurrier and the job he has done and what they do with their offense. (Thompson)’s really playing well. They have some good receivers making plays for him and they can run the ball, which certainly helps………………………………………… They’ve got a good run game and they’re good up front.”

Yes. Good up front. South Carolina has one of the biggest offensive lines in the country. The Gamecocks average 6’5” and 314 pounds across their starting front. Earlier this week, Coach Spurrier sounded optimistic that 6’2” 300-pound sophomore right guard Cody Waldrop (knee) would be back in the line-up for Missouri. But, he didn’t practice on Tuesday.

Thompson is working with a talented receiving corps. The starters aren’t big, but they’re all quick, elusive, and fast. The Gamecocks’ leading receiver is 5’11” 201-pound sophomore slot man and punt returner Pharoh Cooper, who has also been taking snaps in the wildcat formation. He’s a multi-purpose phenom, not unlike Missouri’s Marcus Murphy. On the season, Cooper has 21 receptions for 244 yards and 2 TDs. He’s also rushed 7 times for 89 yards.

“He’s obviously, when he gets his hands on it, is a very good player,” said Coach Spurrier, speaking of Cooper. “And, we need to find ways where he’s running with it.”

Joining Cooper in the starting line-up for the Gamecocks are 6’1” 176-pound junior WR Shaq Roland (14 receptions for 176 yards and 2 TDs), and 5’7” 168-pound senior WR Nick Jones (17 receptions for 259 yards and 3 TDs).

Despite missing time with injuries, Mike Davis is South Carolina’s fourth-leading receiver with 10 catches for 75 yards.

An additional deep threat for the Gamecocks is 5’9” 170-pound senior WR Damiere Byrd, who has just 3 receptions on the season for 99 yards and 2 TDs.

One of Thompson’s red-zone targets is 6’4” 192-pound junior WR K.J. Brent, who has 3 receptions for 39 yards and 1 TD. Then there’s the two tight ends, 6’5” 227-pound senior Rory Anderson (9 receptions for 128 yards and 1 TD) and 6’6” 242-pound junior Jerrell Adams (3 receptions for 54 yards).

The use of their tight ends is key for the Gamecocks. They’ll put them both on the field together, or most of the time, separately. They’ll line them up attached, in the slot, or in the backfield. They are often in motion prior to the snap.

South Carolina utilizes a base 4-3 defense, although they will also line up in a 3-man front. Their base defense includes a Spur LB/DB hybrid, so their base defense looks a lot like a nickel defense. The players who play the Spur position for the Gamecocks range from corner back size (5’10” 187) to smallish LB size (6’0” 220).

Another aspect of South Carolina’s defensive personnel this season is that the Gamecocks have played a lot of different people on defense. They list 30 defensive players on their two-deep, and it appears that nearly all of them have played at least semi-regularly. The Gamecocks have had 14 different players start for them on defense this season, and have regularly played about 25 players on defense.

Defensively, the Gamecocks are relatively young and inexperienced. They start just three seniors on defense, and three more juniors. Of the 25 or so defenders who play regularly, 18 of them are either freshmen or sophomores.

South Carolina’s most-experienced corner is a sophomore. And, the other three of their top four corners are true freshmen. So, as you can see, the Gamecocks are young and relatively inexperienced on the defensive side of the football.

“They have a relatively young team, certainly on defense,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of the Gamecocks. “But they do a good job. They want to keep getting better just like everyone else does.”

South Carolina has struggled defensively, to be sure, although the Gamecocks have thus far played one of the toughest schedules in the country. They’re 1-1 against teams currently ranked in the top 12.

South Carolina is surrendering an average of 36 points/game, 5.3 yards/rushing attempt, and 8.1 yards/per pass attempt. They’ve yielded 480 yards of total offense/game, and 6.8 yards/play.

The Gamecocks are very talented defensively. They’re athletic, and they can run. But they haven’t been able to stop the run, and they haven’t been able to put much pressure on the QB with their front. They’ve mixed in some blitzes to create most of what pressure they’ve been able to apply.

“We've struggled a little bit on pass rush and we really don’t have quite the guys we used to around here with Jadeveon [Clowney], even Chaz Sutton. And Kelcey Quarles got a bunch of sacks last year,” said Coach Spurrier. “But our guys are hustling. They really are. They’re trying in there. And we’re bringing some linebackers. We’re probably going to have to bring some linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback right now. But our guys are hustling. A lot of those defensive linemen played pretty well last week. Gerald Dixon Jr. had one of his best games last week, so those guys are hustling. We’re just sort of limited, I guess, as far as one of those natural rush guys that we used to have around here.”

The Gamecocks are going to be without red-shirt freshman DE David Johnson, who has played regularly, and is out with a knee injury.

Often, they’ve had to resort to playing soft in their coverages, which hasn’t really been very effective. And, they haven’t tackled very well. They make plays, but they lack consistency of execution, which has led their head coach to suggest that they’re “extremely fortunate” to be 3-1.

“Everyone believes winning breeds more winning, and obviously, losing breeds more losing,” said Coach Spurrier. “So, we are in the habit of something happening to help us win a bunch of games that we easily could have lost. A few bad bounces and we probably could have lost every game this year. We haven't dominated anybody, but it has worked out three out of four times.”

“I wish we could get our players, a large majority of our players, to realize how special every game is and maybe our effort and concentration level would improve,” said Coach Spurrier. “We do believe our players can play better………………………………………….. We believe, as coaches, that we can get our players playing at a higher level…………………………………………. Hopefully, our team will play a little bit better than we’ve been playing.”

If you ask Coach Pinkel, he’ll tell you that South Carolina is getting better.

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