Storylines: Gamecocks - Golden Eagles

College football gets kicked off in style at Williams-Brice Stadium as the South Carolina Gamecocks host the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles to get the 2010 season started.

Anna's Tailgate Recipe for Southern Miss
Garcia gets first shot
Video: Spurrier previews Southern Miss
Staff Predictions: Southern Miss

Southern Miss Storylines

First meeting between Golden Eagles and Gamecocks

Thursday's matchup is big not only because it is the season opener for both teams, but also the first time that South Carolina and Southern Miss have ever squared off on the gridiron. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has some familiarity with the school, having faced them three times while coaching the Florida Gators. Spurrier was 3-0 in those contests, defeating the Eagles by scores of 24-20 in 1992, 55-17 in 1994, and 21-6 in 1997.

Gamecocks will face two quarterbacks

As has become somewhat commonplace in today's college football landscape, Southern Miss will play two quarterbacks in Thursday night's contest. Starting will be junior Austin Davis, who missed eight games following a foot injury in 2009, but is already fourth in school history in passing yards. Complimenting him will be Martevious Young, who started eight games last year and finished with sixteen touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

Coach Steve Spurrier commented on facing the two QB's in his weekly press conference on Tuesday, saying, and "Veteran quarterback in Austin Davis. I think he started two or three years there, going on to his third. They play also another quarterback, Martevious Young, who is very athletic-type player, excellent runner."

DeAndre Brown a handful for USC secondary

Another player making things difficult for the South Carolina defense will be wide receiver DeAndre Brown, the former five star recruit who is already making his mark on the Southern Miss record books. In 2009, the 6'6'' Ocean Springs, Mississippi native followed up on an excellent freshman season, catching 47 passes for 785 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown has twenty-one TD's in his two years, already moving him into third on the career list for the Golden Eagles.

Spurrier said Brown, as he always does, will present a big challenge for the USC secondary, but they will try their best to be up to the challenge and are looking to the Carolina crowd to also make things difficult for USM.

"They have a big-time receiver who is probably taller than all of our guys," said Spurrier. "6-6. DeAndre Brown. He's had some big years there. But he supposedly is an NFL type guy that will be a high pick here. He's only a junior, but I guess he could come out early like a lot of those guys do. We'll have our hands full, as we know, and we're looking forward to Thursday night and hopefully our fans will make it difficult for Southern Miss, be loud and screaming, and give us some help in that regard."

Experience on defense, little on offensive line

USM will return nine starters on the defensive side of the football, making things difficult for Steve Spurrier's unit. Their defense ranked second in Conference USA in 2009, and features three returning linebackers in Korey Williams, Ronnie Thornton, and Martez Smith. Those names were also the top three in tackles on last year's Golden Eagle defense.

For as much experience as they return on defense, Southern Miss will be without much experience on a critical portion of the offense: the offensive line. USM returns only one starter in center Cameron Zipp. Even after losing a significant portion of the running game as well, Spurrier said that he is impressed with the job that USM head coach and former Florida assistant Larry Fedora has done.

"I think he was (at Florida) for three years and I guess got the head job at Southern Miss from there," said Spurrier. "He's a former offensive coordinator and I believe he still runs the offense there and calls the plays and so forth. So, they've done well. They've had an identical record to us. Last two years, we're both 7-6, 14-12 the last two years. So somebody is going to be better off late Thursday night than they once were."

Confident Eagles looking for big win

Even with their struggles in some previous openers under Spurrier, there is no doubt among Gamecock fans that they expect a big debut when the Garnet & Black takes the field Thursday night. But Southern Miss isn't going to make things easy for USC, as their coach has said multiple times that his players will be confident and expecting to win when they come into Williams-Brice.

Coach Fedora was initially quoted as boasting about beating the Gamecocks, stating, "The first college football game of the 2010 season is us. So every college football fan in this entire country will be watching us - watching the Golden Eagles beating South Carolina."

This sentiment obviously did not sit well with Gamecock fans, and Fedora has since rescinded that statement a little bit, instead saying, "our players are going to go out there on that field and expect to win - like they do every game."

Either way, the Eagles will be primed to showcase their program on national television, an opportunity that seldom comes around for Conference USA teams, and will try to take advantage of Gamecock mistakes to pull the upset over an SEC program.

South Carolina Storylines

Who starts at quarterback, running back for USC?

After hinting at it yesterday, Steve Spurrier confirmed during his weekly SEC teleconference today that Stephen Garcia will indeed get the start for USC on Thursday. Although the QB spot has been under much discussion and debate throughout fall camp, Spurrier said during his press conference on Tuesday that he prefers to go with experience when faced with the choice between two players. In somewhat of a surprise, Spurrier also said that running back Brian Maddox, who previously was listed third on the opening week depth chart, will get the start against USM as well.

"Oh, we probably got an idea who's going to start," said Spurrier. "Generally I've always played the older guys first, unless something happens right before the game. We've got a couple of days to see if someone sprains an ankle or something before we send one out there. Usually if the older guys have played pretty well during preseason practice, we go with them, to start the game. How long they'll be in there, I don't know."

Looking for freshmen contributions

During this week's Carolina Crowline, Wes Mitchell and I heavily discussed what we expect this year's freshman class to contribute, especially as it pertains to Thursday's opener.

Although neither will get the start, both of us agreed that Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore will be two big names to look for, regardless of class.

Regarding Shaw, Spurrier said, "He's done a lot in the short time he's been here. He knows the offense very well, just like Marcus Lattimore knows the offense every well. I believe some guys are fast learners and there are some guys who really, really want to learn. Some guys are not fast learners and don't realize the importance of knowledge in playing this game. But anyway, he's performed well in the scrimmages, he's a good athlete, he can run when he needs to, so we've got to see how he performs in the real action here Thursday night."

Lattimore will also make his debut Thursday after being possibly the biggest recruit of Spurrier's tenure at USC. With the explosiveness and physicality that he has displayed during preseason practice, Spurrier said it is only a matter of time before the ultra-talented Byrnes product makes his contribution to the USC running game.

"We certainly hope to run the ball very well, as all teams do, just about," added Spurrier. "So we certainly expect Marcus in the game early. If he doesn't start, he'll be in there early. He'll have lots of opportunities, we hope. But again, we need to mix the pass with the run. We feel like we got some outstanding receivers, so you hope to do it both ways."

Finally, Ace Sanders was the last freshman discussed during Crowline that many Gamecock fans are looking to for big things. Sanders is currently listed as one of two backups behind Tori Gurley, along with DeMario Bennett. But if he displays the quickness and soft hands that made him a star during the early days of fall camp, look for Sanders to make a solid contribution to the South Carolina receiving corps.

Experienced defensive front looking to feast on Golden Eagle O-line

As mentioned earlier, things may be difficult for the four new starters on the Southern Miss offensive line when they line up in front of 80,000 fans and a national television audience on Thursday. But making it even more difficult will be the tenacious and experienced South Carolina defensive front, led by all-SEC selection Cliff Matthews. Along with Matthews, sophomore Devin Taylor will line up at the other defensive end spot, while junior Travian Robertson and senior Ladi Ajiboye will team up in the middle at defensive tackle.

That unit helped USC finish last season with the fifth best rushing defense in the SEC and third in total defense. Matthews also tied for fifth in the conference with seven sacks last season. There is no doubt that this unit will be primed and ready to go against Southern Miss, and will look to set the tone for a big season with a dominating opener.

Wide receivers looking to make their mark

2009 was the year of the young gun at the wide receiver position, as two freshmen, Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley, excelled during the season to become the biggest playmaking threats on the Carolina offense. Those two will be looking for even more with one season under their belts, and will try to prove themselves worthy of being identified as one of the premier receiver tandems in the league and around the country.

"Actually, Alshon's a sophomore, Tori's a sophomore, we're excited about Ace Sanders, he's done a very good job in preseason practice," said Spurrier. "He may be out there a lot. Who knows?"

And as for Alshon, who was selected second team preseason all-SEC by the coaches?

"Alshon has got a good work ethic, but certainly I've had many, many, that have had just as good," said Spurrier. "You don't become a truly great college football player without it. But I think Alshon is an improved receiver from last year. I know physically, he is in a lot better shape than last year. But the other guys have done well too. A lot of them have done well in preseason. So, we'll probably play a lot of receivers here Thursday night."

Looking past distractions

The 2010 offseason, and more specifically the past month or so, have not been kind to South Carolina as far as off the field distractions. First there were the alleged improprieties received by Weslye Saunders relating to the NCAA investigation of agent relationships with players. Then, the Whitney Hotel story broke, exposing a potential scandal involving USC players perhaps receiving discounted rates from a Columbia hotel.

But all of that will be put on hold Thursday night as the talking finally ends and the playing begins for Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. Although they will be without Saunders for the foreseeable future and perhaps permanently, the Gamecocks will still welcome the opportunity to look past distractions and finally strap on the pads after a long offseason of waiting. Not only that, but it will also be the first opportunity for Carolina to take the field and seek redemption after another disastrous bowl game, as well as the debut of new offensive line coach Shawn Elliot.

"Those issues are not as big as a distraction as some people think," said Spurrier. "When you've coached for a long time it is the first time in my coaching career that we have had sort of these kinds of issues. I realize now how they can happen. So, anyway, I don't believe in distractions. A guy gets hurt, we're not going to sit around and mope and cry. Next guy has to go play. That's part of all sports. Whatever our team is out there Thursday night, that's our team. We're expected to go play and play well. See y'all Thursday night."

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