Five Keys to Victory against NC State
1. Slow the Wolfpack running game
NC State will be without junior running backs Jamelle Eugene and Toney Baker, but that doesn't mean they lack a stud in the backfield to feed the rock to. Senior Andre Brown has 1,772 career rushing yards, and at 228 pounds is a load for defenders to bring down. Brown will get the call early and often as Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack will look to pound away at the South Carolina defense, which ranked last in the SEC in rushing defense last season.
Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson is making his first collegiate start, and O'Brien will look to keep the ball out of the air as much as possible. If N.C. State establishes the run early, it will set the tone for the entire game and also allow Wilson to attempt likely pressure-free passes off play-action. Wilson would then more than likely settle in, and his confidence would grow as the game went along.
However, if the Gamecock defense stymies the Pack running game, then the whole complexion of the game changes. Wilson would then be forced to throw in long-yardage situations with a pass-rush in his face, not the way he wants to spend his first game in the saddle. The defense will also have to contain Wilson's legs as the cat-quick quarterback can get up the field in a hurry and is so athletic that he could see some time in the punt returner role.
2. Limit turnovers
South Carolina is more experienced and more talented than N.C. State, but that doesn't always guarantee a win. Much like Wilson is starting his first game, redshirt junior Tommy Beecher will be making his first career start, though Beecher has seen some time in a back-up role. By all indications, Beecher is ready for his role as the starter, but inexperienced players will always make mistakes, especially early in the season. State is not without talent and is too good of a team to give multiple chances in good field position. If State protects the ball and South Carolina coughs it up a few times, then the Wolfpack will head back to Raleigh with a victory in tow.
This is not to say if Beecher throws a pick Gamecock fans need to panic, but how he responds to the adversity of that interception will possibly decide the outcome of the game.
3. Put them away
With the exception of the 2006 Mississippi State game, South Carolina has made a habit of going up two scores early in season openers under Spurrier only to sputter to the finish line with the opposition quickly approaching. This is not to say USC definitely will sprint out to an early lead, but if they do, they need to finish the job like most of Spurrier's Florida teams when they went up on teams early. A dominating victory over the Wolfpack would interject some confidence in the program and once and for all erase any remnants of the five-game losing streak. It would also allow some of the younger players to get valuable experience and allow banged up players more rest.
4. Establish the run
As much as Spurrier was known for his high-flying passing attack at Florida, his offense was as balanced as any. He has had to get away from that at times at USC due to playing from behind or inconsistent play up front. He will have to get back to a balanced attack at some point for USC to ever be a real contender. Now is as good a time as any for the USC running game to take off. Taylor Rank deserves the start and won't be flashy, but will hit the hole if it's there. It will be up to the o-line to pave the way. This goes right along with key to victory no. 3, as an inability to establish the run has kept USC from putting teams away.
5. Contain Anthony Hill
What more could any young QB making his first start want than an athletic 6'6" pass-catcher with good hands? That's just what Wilson will have in tight end Anthony Hill, who returns to the Pack line-up after missing all of last season rehabbing a torn ACL. With inexperience at wide receiver and State expected to use the play-action pass often, Hill will likely be one of the first places the young QB looks. South Carolina has struggled covering tight ends in the past, and it could become an issue tonight. One big question mark about playing linebackers the size of Norwood and Brinkley is their ability to cover tight ends and running backs. We will find out early if they are capable or if Johnson's scheme effectively camouflages that potential weakness.
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