Weaknesses Could Become Strengths In 06'
The South Carolina rushing attack left a lot to be desired a year ago, and despite noticeable improvement at the end of the 2005 season, the Gamecocks still finished the year with the nation's 108th ranked rushing offense. Mike Davis was the lone bright spot in the running game last season, and although he had his share of struggles while being thrown into the fires of SEC play as a true freshman, Davis progressed significantly throughout the course of the year and finished the season with 666 yards rushing and a respectable 4.6 yards per carry average. Davis returns a year stronger and more experienced for his sophomore campaign in 2006, and he will be joined by junior Cory Boyd, who is back after serving a year long suspension. The tandem of Davis and Boyd has the potential to be the Gamecocks best 1-2 punch in the backfield in recent memory, and if the offensive line can provide some daylight, then the rushing attack that ranked 11th in the SEC last season could potentially become one of the better ground games in the SEC.
Balanced Passing Attack
The South Carolina passing attack returns one of the top receiving threats in the nation this season in sophomore Sidney Rice, and after a freshman campaign where he totaled 70 catches for 1,143 yards and 13 touchdowns, Rice has warranted every ounce of publicity he has received this pre-season. However, after being the Gamecocks first and at times only receiving threat in 2005, he will demand double teams and extra attention from opposing defenses throughout the 2006 season. Simply put, Rice can not do this alone in 2006. Enter Kenny McKinley, Syvelle Newton, O.J. Murdock, and Moe Brown. Unlike last season, the Gamecocks appear to have a quality group of complementary receivers that are capable of burning defenses if they do, in fact, sell out to stop Sidney Rice. The Gamecocks have displayed a fairly balanced passing attack in fall camp, and if that carries over into the regular season, then opposing defenses will simply have to pick their poison. A couple of other names to watch out for in the passing game this season are redshirt freshman tight end Jared Cook and the versatile Cory Boyd, who totaled 468 receiving yards out of the backfield in his first two seasons at Carolina.
Quarterback Blake Mitchell often got in trouble last year when being too reliant on Sidney Rice, but he appears to have a full arsenal of talented receivers to work with this season. If the offensive line can provide adequate protection for Mitchell, then the Cock N' Fire may very well reach new heights in 2006.
The old cliché states that to win football games you must be able to run and stop the run. Well, that certainly wasn't the case for the Gamecocks in 2005. As previously mentioned, the South Carolina rushing attack ranked 108th in the nation last season, but their run defense did not fare much better against the run. The Gamecocks surrendered an average of 174.2 yards rushing per game, which ranked 11th in the SEC and 85th in the nation. Fortunately, the Gamecocks fielded one of the better defensive backfields in the country, and All-American safety Ko Simpson served as a safety valve in run support. Simpson has now moved on to the glories of the National Football League, and the Gamecock defense will be forced to show vast improvement against the run this season.
New Defensive Line Coach Brad Lawing was brought in this offseason for that very reason, and he has brought a new mindset to South Carolina's defensive front. Lawing demands precision and effort from his linemen at all times, and under his guidance, the defensive line appears to have made strides this offseason. They will be a much better conditioned unit than last season, and they will be more fundamentally sound. Junior defensive tackle Marque Hall appears primed for a breakout season, and if he has the season that many expect him to, then he could vie for All-SEC honors at the end of the year. Hall will be joined by Ryan Brown, Casper Brinkley, and Nathan Pepper on the first team defensive line, and although they lack name recognition, this unit plays with a chip on their shoulders. The defensive line should perform better than they did a year ago, and with key losses at linebacker and in the secondary, the defensive front will be relied upon to play an important role in 2006. Ultimately, with improved line play, the Gamecocks should see improvement against the run this season, but in order for that to happen, the young linebackers will need to fulfill their responsibilities in run support.
As a program still very much in the building process, improvement from one year to the next is the most you can ask for. The Gamecocks appear to have made significant strides in key areas this offseason, and if all plays out according to plan, then what served as weaknesses a year ago could very well turn into strengths for the 2006 Gamecock football team.
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