Early Preview: Navy

After opening the season with a neutral game against East Carolina and a game against Georgia in Athens, the Gamecocks will play their home opener against Navy on September 17th. Today, GamecockAnthem takes a look at the match-up with the Midshipmen and what they bring to the table.

Raise your hand if you had flashbacks of 1984 when you saw the South Carolina home opener against Navy.

Put them back down.

Odds are if you're old enough to remember 1984 you probably just raised your hand. South Carolina played host to Navy with hopes of a MNC on the horizon. At 9-0, the Gamecocks were two wins away from an undefeated season. At 3-5-1 the Midshipmen weren't supposed to be much of a threat to ruin the Gamecocks' season. After a 38-21 loss to Navy, the Gamecocks rebounded to be arch-rival Clemson before falling to Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl.

Fast forward 17 years later and you have a South Carolina team that has preseason hopes of a BCS berth and outside shot at something bigger. While a loss to Navy in week three of the season would not end Carolina's hopes of a BCS berth, it would be a difficult loss to overcome if the Gamecocks want to accomplish their dreams of a National Championship appearance.

Navy Offense

There's a good chance that Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia will throw more passes in the first quarter than Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor will throw the entire game. Proctor - a senior from California - will be replacing Ricky Dobbs, who capped off an unbelievable career for the Midshipmen by leading Navy to a a 9-4 recording which included a 35-17 victory over Notre Dame.

Proctor saw action in eight games last season, but threw only five passes. His inexperience will likely mean even more option runs than normal. He was fifth on the team in rushing, running for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries.

Navy will welcome back its second-leading rush from 2010 (Dobbs was first) in fullback Alexander Teich. The 6-0, 217 pound senior rushed for 868 yards and five touchdowns on 147 carries. Teich is the only returner with at least 100 carries. Running back Gee Gee Greene returns for his junior season after running for 492 yards and five touchdowns on 72 carries. Greene - a graduate from Richland Northeast - will be making his homecoming appearance and will undoubtedly want to have a big game in front of family and friends.

Up front, Navy is one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. Featuring four seniors and a junior, the Midshipmen will have the experience needed to run the option offense well and disguise the misdirection. At 310 pounds, center Brady DeMell is the only lineman over 270 pounds, but with guards and tackles constantly pulling out in an option offense they have to be able to move quickly. That's exactly what they do.

Navy will start senior Doug Furman and junior Brandon Turner at receiver, but they know their number one priority is blocking down field. Turner only caught the ball four times for 113 yards and a touchdown last season, and Furman only had three catches for 21 yards. 2010 leading receiver Greg Jones graduated after catching 33 passes for 662 yards and five touchdowns.

With the relative inexperience at quarterback and the experience in the backfield and on the line, expect very few balls in the air when Navy has the ball.

Defense

The Navy defense wasn't great in 2010, but it was solid. Of course a ball-control offense will keep the defense off the field that helps keep those numbers down. Navy was prone to give up points, however, giving up 23 points per game. Four times the Midshipmen gave up 30+ points, including a 34-31 loss to Duke and 35-14 loss to San Diego State in their bowl game. They also gave up 35 in a win over East Carolina and 37 in a win over Central Michigan.

Navy loses their top four tacklers - three of them linebackers - that combined to record 372 tackles, five sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles, and 10 recovered fumbles.

Much like the offense, the defense returns a huge group of upper classmen, but they don't have as much playing experience or played as big a role. All of the leaders in the depth chart heading into the fall are juniors or seniors.

For the second week in a row, the South Carolina offense will see a 3-4 defense. Jabaree Tuani and Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick are the listed starters at the ends, and Jared Marks is the starting nose tackle. Much like the offensive line, the defensive line relies on speed and agility. Marks is 297 in the middle, while Tuani is 265 and Dowling-Fitzpatrick is only 220. Despite all three playing in all 13 games, only Tuani made a real impact. Tuani finished fifth on the team in tackles with 72 tackles, second in sacks with 5.5, forced three fumbles, and recovered one. Dowling-Fitzpatrick registered just four tackles and Marks - despite being one of the largest nose guards Navy has had in recent years - only had three tackles in 2010.

In all but one of the losses, the opposing offense ran for over 250 yards. The best way to stop the option is to keep that offense on the sidelines. There's no doubt Carolina will look to pound the defense with Marcus Lattimore.

The linebackers are all seniors, but much like the defensive line, made little impact in 2010. To their credit only outside linebacker Jarred Shannon played in all 13 games. Shannon recorded just four tackles on the season. Fellow outside linebacker Mason Graham had just five tackles in seven games. Middle linebackers Matt Warrick and Max Blue made a much bigger impact. Warrick recorded 18 tackles in just four games, earning a starting spot in the final two games. Blue battled injuries all season - playing in just eight games - but finished sixth on the team with 58 tackles and one interception. He missed two games with a hip and back injury, returned for one game, and then missed the final three games with a neck injury. Blue and Warrick will have to come up big in the interior to stop Lattimore, and Shannon and Graham will likely be covering Lattimore out of the backfield and tight end Justice Cunningham.

Navy will start Kwesi Mitchell and David Sperry at corner, but they will have some match-up problems with the taller Carolina receivers. Mitchell is only 5-10 and Sperry is 5-11 and will line up against much bigger, physical Gamecock receivers. Carolina receivers will likely have a similar day against Navy that they did against East Carolina in week one as both teams feature much smaller defensive backs. Mitchell had one interception and forced three fumbles in 2010 and Sperry had eight tackles.

At Rover and free safety, Navy will feature Tra'ves Bush and Jordan Fraser, respectively. Bush recorded 44 tackles and one interception and 11 tackles in seven games. Fraser is the only defensive back that stands over 6-0.

Match-up

Navy offense vs. South Carolina defense

The three words you'll hear most often in ‘Option 101' is discipline, discipline, and discipline.

That is going to be the name of the game for the South Carolina front seven. You must stay disciplined, play your assignments, trust your teammates, and play unselfish football. The defensive tackles and inside linebackers must stay inside to stop the fullback, the ends must stay on the quarterback, and the linebackers must defend the pitch. Sounds easy enough, but is easier said than done.

If just one player is out of position, a one yard gain can easily turn into a game-breaker. If one of the tackles or middle linebackers is caught looking at the quarterback and running back, the fullback will run right past them. If the ends get too far upfield or jump to the pitch, the quarterback cuts inside and is off to the races. Dobbs continually killed defenses by cutting inside off the tackle and getting upfield. You can expect Proctor to do the same. If the outside linebackers have to go to the quarterback, the running back is wide open for the pitch.

The secondary must be careful as well. Though Navy usually doesn't throw the ball unless they absolutely have to, you can bet the Navy coaches will be watching the Gamecock secondary. If the secondary is looking in the backfield, you can bet that Navy will run play-action.

If South Carolina plays disciplined football on defense, they have the athletes and talent to dominate the Navy offense. If they don't, expect to see a lot of the Navy offense.

South Carolina offense vs. Navy defense

I would expect to see a similar gameplan to that of the East Carolina game. Though Navy isn't near as bad as ECU on defense, they are much smaller than their Gamecock counterparts. I would expect a heavy dose of Lattimore and Kenny Miles to keep the Gamecock defense on the sidelines. But you can also bet your bottom dollar the Alshon Jeffery, D.L. Moore, Jason Barnes, and the rest of the Gamecock receivers will be looking for the ball. I expect to see a very balanced attack in yardage, though I think play-calling will probably be closer to 60-40% with running plays over passing.

Bottom line is Carolina should win this game. They're just bigger, stronger, and more physical. BUT, if they don't come ready to play ball, Gamecock fans may be reliving 1984 all over again.


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