Eighth-ranked South Carolina, coming off a 48-10 beating of East Carolina, will return to Williams-Brice Saturday night when they host the UAB Blazers. UAB fell to Troy two weeks ago, 39-29, and is coming off their bye week. They begin a stretch of 11 straight weeks of football Saturday when they come into Columbia. The off-week is not something first-year coach Garrick McGee wanted to see, but his opinion changed somewhat during the off-week.
"Well, it was documented last week that I didn't think initially that was the best thing for us," McGee said. "But after playing the game and getting to go back to training camp it gave us an opportunity to really go back and address the issues that we had. It helped us challenge certain people with who they were going to be the rest of the season, if they were going to focus and concentrate and do things the way that winners do. I am really impressed with their response to it."
McGee, who was named head coach last December, is in his first year as head coach, but he has plenty of experience since his playing days at quarterback for Oklahoma. His career includes stints at Toledo, UNLV, Northwestern, and he spent two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has SEC experience, coaching the last four years under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, who he coached with at Jacksonville. The last two seasons he served as offensive coordinator. So when it comes to facing an SEC team, he knows exactly what his team is up against.
"They are very talented they have one of the best football coaches (Steve Spurrier) sitting on the sidelines in the history of the game which, gives them credibility immediately," Garrick said Monday at his weekly press conference. "They are the same team they have always been."
One thing McGee does not know heading into game week is who his defense will face at quarterback. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is still unsure about the health of starter Connor Shaw, who suffered a deep bone bruise on his throwing shoulder in the season-opener against Vanderbilt. With Shaw out last week, back-up Dylan Thompson got the start and had an amazing performance. McGee's defense will have to prepare for both Shaw and Thompson. Shaw gives Carolina a dual-threat look while Thompson gives the Gamecocks more of a throwing presence.
"What the film says is that they are a lot more aggressive as an offense," McGee said. "What Thompson gave them was an opportunity to throw the ball a lot more, which gives (Marcus) Lattimore more room to run. I think what Shaw brings to the table is that he's a competitor and he's a winner. He's very tough and competitive. For him to play that Vandy game with a hurt shoulder and understand that it was a conference game, he had to sell out right then to win a conference game on the road and that he was able to hang in there and do it shows a lot to me."
After struggling offensively against Vanderbilt, Carolina turned it up against East Carolina. Receivers became more of a threat and run-oriented offense turned into a passing offense. They showed that you can't just focus on taking Lattimore out of the game. ECU constantly stacked the box and made Lattimore's role diminish, but that just opened it up for Thompson to air it out. McGee believes they have to prepare for Carolina just as any other offense.
"The way you stop any offense is you play fundamentally sound, you understand your techniques and your schemes, and you anticipate which plays are about to be run," McGee said. "You have to win on first down so that you push them into a second down and a long situation and that gives you the best chance. But it all starts with being focused on understanding our scheme, understanding what they are going to do on offense, playing with the right leverage and tackling."
On the other side of the ball the Blazers will face on of the top lines I the country. The starting five offensive linemen are all under 300 pounds, including 270-pound sophomore John Hix at center. They will be challenged all night by the bigger, stronger defensive front of the Gamecocks.
"Most of the defensive lines in the SEC are what separates them from any other conference in my opinion," McGee said. "So whenever you go in to play a team like this the defensive front is very talented. You have to understand certain ways to get the ball out and you have to really stay in your passing lanes. Your offensive lines have to stay leveled off so they create passing lanes for the quarterback, the receiver's routes have to be at the right spot. You have to execute the way you execute at practice. That is what gives you a chance."
Not only will UAB be facing a very good South Carolina football team, they will be facing them in one of the toughest venues in the nation. Carolina has only lost two games inside Williams-Brice the last two seasons and has not last a non-conference game since 2007 when Clemson topped the Gamecocks 23-21 in the season finale.
"There will be some things that we do a little different in overall preparation for the game," McGee said. "Last week was a week for us to prepare our offense and really zone in on the signals. Make guys concentrate on the signals coming off the sidelines. There are things that you have to do differently when playing on the road."
For a player it can be especially difficult playing in a hostile environment. It is hard to get plays in, communicate with each other, and if you've never played in an environment like that it can be intimidating. It will be up to the experience Blazer players to help the younger players.
"It is a mental standpoint," senior linebacker Marvin Burdette said. "Staying focused on play calls and playing physical during the game is key. I have played in big games before at Tennessee, Ole Miss, and others; there is not much of a difference to me; you line up and play ball like everyone else."
There is one player on the UAB roster that will be making a home-coming Saturday. Senior receiver Nick Adams played high school football at Colleton County high school where he was a teammate of South Carolina defensive tackle Byron Jerideau.
"It is very exciting," Adams said. "We are practicing hard and preparing the best we can. South Carolina is my home state, so I am not only looking forward to the game, but also to see my family and friends. It gives us a chance to come and show off in front of them and in front of a huge crowd like South Carolina."
Quotes courtesy of uabsports.com
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