What To Watch For: Missouri

GamecockAnthem takes a weekly look at a few things to watch for in the upcoming game. This week's edition focuses on the Missouri Tigers as the Gamecocks play return to SEC play in this Eastern division matchup.

This weekend's matchup between South Carolina and Missouri will be the third matchup in the series history with the Tigers holding a 2-0 edge over the Gamecocks. Both meetings occurred in bowl games with the first in the 1979 Hall of Fame bowl game and the other in the 2005 Independence Bowl.

The talk all week leading up to the game was the health of both quarterbacks in this matchup. The Gamecocks' Connor Shaw and Missouri's James Franklin both missed time last week in their respective matchups. However, both players are expected to play this weekend as Steve Spurrier announced on Tuesday that Connor Shaw will start while Missouri's James Franklin was reported as almost "symptom-free" and practiced on Wednesday.

The health of those two quarterbacks could play a major factor in the outcome of the matchup this Saturday.

With that in mind, let's take a look at What To Watch For this weekend against the Missouri Tigers.

Connor Shaw's health and his ability to play the entire game

It's obvious that Connor Shaw hasn't been quite himself lately thanks to the injury suffered in the Vanderbilt. After sitting out the East Carolina game, Shaw started against UAB and struggled in the first half while the offense stalled. Shaw exited after a punishing hit late in the second quarter and remained on the sidelines for the rest of the night. Shaw mentioned that his shoulder hurt more and more as the night went on.

This doesn't sound like a player who could turn around and play the next week, but that's exactly what Shaw will do. Coach Spurrier and Coach Spurrier Jr. said this week that Shaw has thrown the ball really well. They even mentioned how well he threw the ball on Monday coming back from the re-aggravated injury on Saturday night.

Shaw has been unable to play a full game yet this season and, with a hairline fracture, it's not an injury that heals over night. All reports are that Shaw feels good and is ready to go but we'll have to wait and see if he can play the entire game. The offensive line could play a major role in limiting the pressure Shaw will see from Missouri if they play up to their potential.

It's hard to doubt a player like Connor Shaw but don't be surprised if Dylan Thompson gets a few snaps on Saturday afternoon.

Who will win the first and fourth quarter?

There's a gripping statistic for both teams in regards to the first and fourth quarter scoring so far this season. South Carolina has outscored its opponents 28-3 in the first quarter and 34-7 in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Missouri has been outscored 38-0 in the first quarter and 37-14 in the fourth quarter.

This tells us that the Gamecocks have started off strong this season and have continued to finish strong in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Missouri has dug themselves a deep hole in the first quarter by being outscored 38-0 but have been able to come away with a 2-1 record. They nearly gave away last week's 24-20 win over Arizona State in the fourth quarter by allowing ASU to score 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Starting strong and finishing strong is something most teams try to do. The Gamecocks have succeeded so far this year off this mantra, and if the trends continue for both teams this weekend, then South Carolina could walk away with another win in the win column.

South Carolina's rush defense versus Missouri's rush offense

When you look at what South Carolina has done on rush defense this year, it's downright scary – if you're the opponent. The Gamecocks have given up an average of 53.0 yards rushing per game this season, which has the Gamecocks in sixth place nationally in the NCAA. Missouri's rushing offense so far this season is averaging 163.0 yards per game. They've got a dynamite duo in running back Kendial Lawrence and quarterback James Franklin. A healthy Franklin adds a ton of value to the spread offense that Missouri has perfected over the years under Gary Pinkel.

So how will this play out on Saturday? South Carolina's defense is anchored with the two speed defensive ends in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Both players have tremendous speed and can stretch the offense to the sideline and play contain with the Missouri run game. The Gamecocks will also use a package where they will have three, or four, defensive ends in the lineup at the same time. This adds another speed element to the defense to help contain the strong running game of the Missouri Tigers.

South Carolina will have their hands full containing Franklin and Lawrence but they've been exceptional against the run this year. There's a good chance they can continue that strong play this weekend.

Home is where the heart is

Williams-Brice Stadium has been really good to the Gamecocks in recent years. Dating back to the past 25 contests, the Gamecocks are 22-3 playing in their home stadium. Steve Spurrier has talked about the big reason for the strong record of late are the close wins for the Gamecocks. Having the home crowd behind the team for support certainly helps the Gamecocks in this matchup against Missouri.

This will be Missouri's first road game in the SEC and will certainly experience one of the great atmospheres in college football. SEC fans bring things to another level, so while they've played in some big games in the Big 12, they have yet to experience a real SEC atmosphere.

The students will be excited. The fans will be amped. A national televised contest will add a little something extra for the game this weekend. The Gamecocks have a chance to keep it rolling at home this weekend and will expect to win at home this weekend. Will Missouri be ready?

South Carolina and Missouri will face-off this weekend at 3:30 on CBS with Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson providing the coverage.

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