The Troy Trojan offense is pretty good, averaging 33 points per game and boasts the nation's 13th best passing attack. The Trojan defense is the complete opposite, giving up 31 points per game. The Trojans are 103rd in total defense, giving up 436 yards per game. Don't tell that to the South Carolina football team.
"Troy's got a good defensive line," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said following Wednesday's practice. "They're athletic, they've got #97(#94) on the edge that rushes the passer as good as anyone. They're going to be a physical group - they've always been a great football team and they've always have great athletes."
Elliott is talking about Trojan defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi, the cousin of Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and Cleveland wide receiver Mohammed Massaquoi, has been one of the few bright spots in an abysmal Trojan defense. Massaquoi has 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks (tied for sixth in the country), and has recovered three fumbles. He will present a stiff challenge for whoever plays right tackle Saturday. Jarriel King, the starting left tackle, suffered a concussion in the Arkansas game and has yet to return. Should he not return, it will be Hutch Eckerson's job to contain Massaquoi. Should King return, it will be a combination of Eckerson and Kyle Nunn sharing the task of blocking Massaquoi. Elliott liked his offensive line's performance in its SEC East-clinching 36-14 victory over Florida, but it needs to play better in the final four games.
"They played OK," Elliott said. "They didn't play great - they had some missed assignments and some bad execution. It wasn't great by no means. We're a pretty good football team - we've got a great back, great skill players - but they played decent."
Troy is giving up 176 rushing yards per game (84th nationally) which must have potential Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore licking his chops. Lattimore is coming off a 40-carry, 212 yard performance against the Gators. Despite what some so-called analysts said, Lattimore appeared to only get stronger as the game wore on. In the second half, Lattimore carried the ball 19 times for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half. Many say that Lattimore should get some rest this week with arch-rival Clemson coming up next week and the SEC Championship game the following, but Lattimore says he didn't come to South Carolina to stand on the sidelines.
"That's what I came here for," Lattimore said. "Run the ball and we've been successful running the ball so that's what we're going to do."
Lattimore will enter Saturday's game with 964 rushing yards this season, just 36 shy of 1,000. Barring injury it's almost a given that Lattimore will reach that mark in front of the home crowd against the Trojans.
"That was one of my goals and that was one of the offensive line's goals," Lattimore said. "If we don't get the win it really doesn't matter, but I'm real excited about that."
As bad as the South Carolina pass defense has been this season, Troy's is a little bit worse. The Trojans are ranked 110th in pass defense, giving up 260 yards per game through the air. That should give quarterback Stephen Garcia a chance to near the 2,500-yard mark in passing yards. Garcia will enter the game 2,221 yards and 14 touchdowns. While Garcia likely won't need to have 380 yards to win the game, he should be able to throw more than he did against the Gators. Garcia was 15-of-22 for 156 yards through the air.
"He played pretty steady," quarterback coach G.A. Mangus said. "I think that one and the Alabama game you saw where we ran the ball a bunch and ran it successfully. He did a great job handing it off to Marcus."
While Garcia wasn't asked to do much, he got the job done when he was asked to. On the first drive of the second half with the Gamecocks clinging to a 15-7 lead, Garcia came up with two big plays before Lattimore finished it off with the touchdown. Garcia completed 19-yard pass to D.L. Moore on a 3rd-and-8, and then completed a 12-yard pass to Tori Gurley on a 3rd-and-10.
"I thought the scramble plays he made Saturday were big," Mangus said. "The one that hit to D.L. on a third down, hit Tori on the crossing route with a guy coming right in his face. Those were two big plays on that drive and it was still obviously a very critical game at that time."
The biggest play Garcia made - and perhaps the final nail in the coffin - was with his legs. With Florida still within striking distance early in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks faced a 3rd-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Garcia got the call on a draw, rushed up the middle, collided with a Gator defensive back, and powered his way into the end zone to put the Gamecocks up 29-7.
"You're down on the 1-yard line you've got to get in the end zone," Mangus said. "That's when packing 230 (pounds) becomes a pretty big tool. He's run the ball well the last two or three weeks - he's been taking care of it and keeping his head up."
Whether it's Lattimore, Garcia, Alshon Jeffery, or even Gurley having the biggest game against a woeful Trojan defense, the only certain thing is that there are plenty of options to get the job done against the Trojans.
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