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Let's get down to it...
There's never a dull moment in Gamecock Nation but this has got to be up there as one of the strangest weeks in some time. How do the events of this week translate to the football field?
MITCHELL: This might be one of the weirdest weeks since I've been following or covering Gamecock football. Past teams may have let those issues become on-the-field issues and affect their play. You get the feeling, though, that this team is focused on the task at hand. Obviously, some of the players are going to be upset that their friend and teammate Stephen Garcia is no longer a part of the program. But away games can be bonding experiences and I think that's just what this will be for this group.
LOHD: The events over the last week were definitely strange in so many ways but let's all hope that the team can use them as motivation. The big hope is this is not a distraction and the team get to work on accomplishing the goals that are still within reach for 2011. USC must play one game at a time and treat it like work. So time to go to work Gamecocks.
LIFE: I believe this team will be able to overcome the off-the-field distractions and play well this weekend. Obviously these guys were close to Stephen Garcia and several have voiced their support of him since his dismissal so he will be missed. I think the team will come out and maybe "win one for the Gipper" with Garcia playing the Gipper role. I also believe they appreciate what Steve Spurrier did by calling out Ron Morris on his negativity towards the football program. These guys know their head coach is behind them and will want to pay it forward with their performance on the field.
South Carolina is no stranger to quarterback competitions, but this week it's Mississippi State that finds itself with a decision to make. Which QB does South Carolina match up better with?
MITCHELL: I'm going to give a copout answer and let the other two give you a real answer. At this point, I think the far bigger question is, can this front four continue to get pressure up front without the staff having to blitz. If South Carolina can take advantage of a young, injury-plagued offensive line then they should be able to match up well with whoever is playing quarterback.
LOHD: I'd go with Chris Relf due to his lackluster play thus far this season. Seems Tyler Russell has the hot-hand right now so no need to face him in my opinion. Truly, Relf is more of the mobile quarterback type that I feel USC has the abilities to shut down on the ground and since he is not that effective of a passer, the USC defense could have real success. Russell's strength is more in passing as seen in the UAB game as he completed 11-of-13 passes for 166 yards and touchdowns on three consecutive possessions as the Bulldogs rallied to beat the Blazers 21-3. Regardless of who is in the pocket, USC's defense is ninth in the nation in total defense and ready to pounce.
LIFE: I think the better matchup for the Gamecocks right now is Chris Relf. Relf is a bigger quarterback who can make things happen with his feet but his decision making has been off this season. He's already thrown six interceptions on the year and is going through his struggles right now including being benched against UAB. I think this bodes well for the USC secondary to come away with a few turnovers. I like our speed up front to be able to contain Relf and I think they can force him into a bad decision or two. But do expect both Relf and Tyler Russell to have their chances.
The Gamecocks' offense came alive against Kentucky. What's the next step for that unit to possibly considered one of the best in the conference?
MITCHELL: Even with the struggles South Carolina has had on offense this year, the explosion against Kentucky propelled the Gamecocks all the way up to third (behind just Arkansas and Alabama) in the conference in total offense. The SEC is a defensive-oriented conference and the Gamecocks showed what they're capable of last week. If they can just continue to show balance and get better on the offensive line, being one of the top units in the league isn't very far off.
LOHD: To be considered the best you have to do it every week and not be a one hit wonder. Last week, it was seen what this team and coaches are capable of. USC against Kentucky put up some impressive stats - 639 yards of offense (351 passing, 288 rushing). The play-calling has creative, balanced and leveraged the talent he has at his disposal. Now it is about replicating that each week, no matter who the opponent is. It may take different forms, meaning one week the defense may allow more run plays or pass plays. The reality is the team has the talent to do it every week; it boils down execution and now let's hope that with Shaw it is the "new normal."
LIFE: Consistency is the key to the Gamecocks become a top offense in the SEC. The hope is Connor Shaw is the piece to bring that together. We saw the aerial show he put up against Kentucky that opened up the ground game in the later stages of the game. They've got plenty of players in place to continue that pace going forward. Guys like Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones, and Brandon Wilds can all get more involved when this offense is clicking and can help take some of the pressure off of Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. Connor Shaw has a good mixture of throwing and scrambling ability and if he stays healthy then I think this offense can take off.
Connor Shaw's true debut was obviously successful, what does the sophomore have to do to have a successful first true road start?
MITCHELL: Shaw went above and beyond what we would have considered a successful start against Kentucky. I think we have to dial the expectations back this week. If Shaw can just go out there and manage the game, hit open receivers and play smart then South Carolina should leave Starkville with a win. That in itself won't be easy but he doesn't need another 300-yard, four-touchdown game.
LOHD: For Connor Shaw to be successful on the road he must focus and get the team to concentrate on the game. There are lots of distractions out there on game day, especially on the road and Shaw must now be the leader of the offense. He has it in him as seen last week. Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw made just his second career start against Kentucky and responded with an SEC Offensive Player of the Week performance. The 6-1, 204-pounder from Flowery Branch, Ga., completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He simply needs to go out and let his actions speak for him. Do that and the respect will be earned. For the actual game, Shaw just needs to execute the play called as he did against UK.
LIFE: He has to play smart football. He needs to know when to take off on a run or stay within the play, when to slide and get out of bounds, and when to throw the football away, and. He needs to be accurate with the football. I'm not asking him to be able to put the ball on a dime 60 yards downfield but be accurate in the short throws that can turn into big plays with our speedsters on the outside. Utilize the middle of the field like he did against Kentucky whether it's a check down to Justice Cunningham or finding Marcus Lattimore in there. Just know where your safety valve is at all times. Oh yeah…No turnovers!
South Carolina leaves Starkville with a win if…
MITCHELL: They play smart, disciplined football. South Carolina, on paper, is the better football team. They need to put the distractions aside and go play a complete football game.
LOHD: Marcus Lattimore finds success in the run game. Over the last two seasons, the Gamecocks are 10-0 when Lattimore carries the ball at least 20 times. The Gamecocks are just 3-6 when Lattimore has less than 20 rushing attempts. The Bulldogs rush defense allows 171 yards per game and this potentially bolds well for Marcus Lattimore; he ranks as the sixth best rusher in the nation as he is averaging 129 yards per game. I'd say let's get him his 20+ carries spaced over the course of the game as it will lead to the offense being opened up. So the key is establishing the run game early and often.
LIFE: USC wins the turnover battle. Under Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is 2-14 when they tied or being in the negative in turnover margin. Our secondary has jumped near the top of the NCAA standings in interceptions and with the inconsistency at QB for MSU, I think there's a chance USC can take advantage of some miscues by the Bulldogs.
MITCHELL: It's never easy to win on the road, especially in a place like Starkville. This one won't be easy at all and I expect a battle. Still, I think the defense will keep the Bulldogs in check and the offense will have enough to score a late touchdown and put MSU away. South Carolina wins 24-13.
LOHD: This game is the first of a three game road streak for USC and they need to get off on the right foot to ensure the goals of 2011 are still in play. USC will win this game thanks to a balanced offense, some player named Lattimore having a great game and USC's defense shutting down the MSU run game. Look for South Carolina to win this game 20-10.
LIFE: I'm leaning towards a score of 24-14. I believe Marcus Lattimore will carry this team in the second half and USC gets a lead they won't relinquish. Defense holds strong again and comes away with a few turnovers and Connor Shaw has an efficient day at quarterback in his first true road game of his career.