What To Watch For: East Carolina

GamecockAnthem takes a weekly look at a few things to watch for in the upcoming game. This week's edition focuses on the East Carolina Pirates in the home opener for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina and East Carolina will face off for the 17th time in the history between the two schools. The Gamecocks own an 11-5 all-time record against the Pirates including last year's victory in Charlotte, North Carolina by a score of 56-37.

The Gamecocks may hold the series advantage but the Pirates are winners of three straight in Columbia, South Carolina. The Pirates defeated USC in 1994, 1996 and 1999 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Gamecocks will be looking for revenge but may have to do it without their starting quarterback Connor Shaw. Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw is still a game-time decision for the Gamecocks and if he's unable to play, Dylan Thompson will be the starter for South Carolina.

In this week's What To Watch For, we'll take a look at how Shaw's absence could affect the Gamecocks and few others things to keep an eye on in this matchup against East Carolina.

If Connor Shaw is unable to play, how will this affect the Gamecocks offense?

Connor Shaw brings a dual-threat approach to the Gamecocks offense. His ability to run the zone-read option has given this offense more versatility at the quarterback position. His ability to keep plays alive certainly helps the Gamecocks extend drives and move the ball downfield. If he's unable to go, South Carolina loses that mobile running threat at the quarterback position.

Dylan Thompson is the next player in line to replace Shaw and he's not the mobile threat that Shaw is for the Gamecocks. However, he has good size at 6-foot-3 and weighing 212 pounds. He's got a nice arm and has really progressed over the summer. He struggled with his confidence against Vanderbilt but the staff has been working on helping build that confidence level during practice this week.

With Thompson under center, the Gamecock offense could be even more run-focused than it would be with Shaw. You could expect more carries out of players like Kenny Miles and Mike Davis. There could also be the Wildcat aspect thrown in the mix as well. This doesn't mean Thompson won't get to make a play with his arm. Spurrier will try to mix in some manageable throws to help Thompson along the way to get him more involved as the game goes on. You should expect a much better outing this go round for Thompson than he had last week. The practice time and the comfort of his home stadium should do wonders for his performance. He likely won't "wow" you but he can get the job done.

The East Carolina quick-strike passing attack

The Pirates are known for their quick-strike offense. They use a lot of quick throws on quick drop back passes to try and attack the opposing defense. The idea is to make the opposing defense tired by getting rid of the ball quickly and forcing the defense to make plays in the open field.

Luckily for South Carolina, they have two talented, and quick, defensive ends in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. They both have the speed to rush the quarterback on these quick passes but also have the length to knock down the pass as well. You'll likely see a lot of defenders on the line work hard to get their hands in the air with hopes of batting down the passes of ECU quarterback Rio Johnson.

Johnson will be making his second career start, and his first road start, this Saturday at Williams-Brice. He hasn't play in an atmosphere like this before so the noise level could affect his timing and this could play a factor as well in the quick-strike offense.

South Carolina's secondary had a lot of questions marks heading into the season but they performed admirably well against Vanderbilt. If you take away Vanderbilt's big 78-yard touchdown on the bad read by safety Brison Williams, the secondary only gave up 136 yards net passing. ECU has a solid offense but is missing the star power of Dominique Davis and Lance Lewis from last year's team. The Gamecocks should be able to hold their own this Saturday.

Will the true freshman receiving threats rise to the occasion?

Steve Spurrier spoke Thursday evening about the need to play more guys on the team. He specifically named freshman wide receiver Shaq Roland as a guy who needs to play. He understands that Thursday's game against Vanderbilt didn't allow for his receiving threats to get much game time but the hope is to do so this weekend.

Roland and freshman tight end Jerell Adams are two players who have star potential written all over them. Both made outstanding plays this preseason and were firmly mixed in the depth chart with a lot of veterans. The Gamecocks passing game needs to get off the ground and this weekend's game could be the perfect opportunity.

East Carolina gave up 300 yards to FCS opponent Appalachian State last week on 23-of-40 passes. Appalachian State is a powerhouse FCS school but does not have the athletes that South Carolina has on offense. If East Carolina can give up that many yards to a lesser opponent, imagine what the South Carolina offense could do to the Pirates. A lot could hinge on the status of Connor Shaw, but if he plays and is able to make all the throws, this could be a good chance to find out if these freshman receiving threats can help you down the road. They have the talent to do so but game experience can go a long way to building confidence for the future.

Will turnovers play a factor like last year?

Last year's game saw a total of nine turnovers between both teams. East Carolina had five turnovers while the Gamecocks had four. A key here was the turnovers in the third quarter by East Carolina that allowed the Gamecocks to come back from a halftime deficit of 24-14. ECU turned the ball over three times in the third quarter and the Gamecocks turned those turnovers into 21 straight points to help build a lead that would sustain the rest of the game.

As much as turnovers played a role last year, it's hard to imagine the same amount of turnovers in this year's contest. Both teams had two turnovers in week one but both teams came away victorious. The Gamecocks could be dealing with a new starting quarterback due to injury and the Pirates have themselves a relatively new starter as well. Crowd noise could play a role here in USC's favor as will their speedy defensive line.

If the Gamecocks are able to play ball control with Marcus Lattimore and protect the football, they will likely pull away for a victory. If they create their own mistakes early and put themselves in a hole like last year against ECU, it will be a dogfight at Williams-Brice.

South Carolina and East Carolina will battle on Saturday, September 8th at 12:21 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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