South Carolina Football: Gamecocks set sights on ECU

The South Carolina football team will be looking to get back to its winning ways this Saturday at 7 PM, as they host the East Carolina Pirates on ESPNU.

South Carolina opened its 2014 season with an utterly humiliating and historic 52-28 loss to Texas A&M, giving up a school record 680 yards, 511 of which were through the air (also a school record). Needless to say, the shock and horror in the immediate aftermath had folks in Columbia ready to pack it in and try again next year.

That is, until Clemson got hammered by Georgia, and then the Gamecock fans got a second-wind.

Since 2011, the Gamecocks have lost seven games but have won every game following a loss save Florida in 2012, a true fluke of a game. Recent history is on South Carolina’s side, but if there was ever a team that could exploit a poor-tackling secondary, it would be the ECU Pirates, who won ten games in 2013, including wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State.

USC offense v. ECU defense

It is difficult to assess the state of the Gamecocks’ offense after last week’s game against the Aggies because their trailing the entirety of the game necessitated that they throw the ball more than they would have liked. The South Carolina running backs only accounted for 16 of the 22 total carries in Thursday’s game, while Dylan Thompson threw 40 passes.

Perhaps more troubling than even the limited carries for the running backs is the fact that the Gamecocks only ran 62 plays, possessing the ball for a paltry 22:22.

The identity of this South Carolina football team during its recent run of success has been dominant defense and controlling the clock, and the best way to accomplish the latter is to run, run, and run some more.

Mike Davis took himself out of the opener at halftime with bruised ribs, which also caused him some distress during the preseason. Suffice it to say, Davis seems to be in Steve Spurrier’s doghouse right now. Davis’ status was upgraded from questionable to probable earlier this week, but even though he is expected to play, do not be surprised if Wilds gets the start or the majority of the carries.

Beyond what could be perceived as questionable dedication to his team, Davis was outperformed by Wilds, who averaged more than five yards-per-carry on his nine rushing attempts.

Even though Steve Spurrier did not get to run his offense like he would have liked, it was good to see Thompson have success in the passing game, at least with his deep ball.

Thompson completed 20-40 passes, a lower completion percentage than he and the coaches would like, but he accounted for 366 yards and all four Gamecock touchdowns. Nick Jones was perhaps the lone bright spot in the Aggie debacle, finishing with a career high 113 yards on five catches, including a 69-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring for the Gamecocks.

Up front, there were far too many floated snaps and missed assignments, both in run blocking and pass protection, to not make some serious adjustments.

Offensive line coach Shawn Elliot seems to be taking extra measures to ensure that his group wins the battle up front so that they can establish the run and control the clock early in this game. Will Sport is slated to make the start at right guard, while redshirt freshman Alan Knott could get the nod at center. Both of these moves have less to do with the production of Cody Waldrop or Clayton Stadnik, rather, it is an attempt to have the line playing as more of a unit.

East Carolina only gave up seven points to North Carolina Central in their season opener, but comment below if you knew that NC Central had a football program (I would not be commenting below).

Defensive coordinator Rick Smith put together an impressive unit that had ten all-conference players last season in C-USA (they now play in the American Athletic Conference, formerly the Big East). Of their starters in their 3-4 scheme though, two defensive lineman are gone (one to the NFL, one to injury), three linebackers are gone, and two defensive backs are gone, meaning this is a largely inexperienced group.

In an interview with Gamecockcentral, Smith mentioned being concerned by the speed South Carolina has at receiver, and if there was anything that the Gamecocks did well last Thursday, it was connect on the deep ball.

Beyond that, the massive offensive line of South Carolina should be able to push around a smaller ECU front three, and as long as they can win the battle in the trenches, there should be no shortage of scoring for the Gamecocks.

USC defense v. ECU offense

Texas A&M came into the season opener planning to do exactly what few thought they would: throw the ball around the yard. With the Gamecocks being weakest at corner and defensive end, it was always vulnerable, but with Kenny Hill having thrown 22 passes in his career, no one could have predicted that Hill would throw it 60 times by night’s end.

But that’s what happened, and that’s what worked.

Thursday was not entirely a fluke, but it is hard to imagine that South Carolina’s defense could be that bad two weeks in a row.

The matchup is initially concerning, as the Pirates play an air raid style of offense that could see them throw the ball 55-60 times a game comfortably. After offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley saw what A&M did to the Gamecock secondary, he may try to throw it 90 times on Saturday.

Three-year starter Shane Carden leads the Pirate’s air raid and could be one of the best quarterbacks the Gamecocks face all year. The senior completed 70% of his passes last season, for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns, translation: Carden is more suited to carve up a weak Gamecock secondary than Kenny Hill was…gulp

A week ago, in the season opener against North Carolina Central, Carden completed 26-37 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Backup Kurt Benkert threw another eight, and wide receiver Justin Hardy threw one more.

In a 52-7 blowout, the Pirates threw the ball 46 times.

In a blowout.

60 pass attempts seems like a conservative estimate of how much ECU will air it out on Saturday.

Instead of listing all the things that the South Carolina defense did poorly last week (that would be too long a list), here are the few things they did well.

  1. Um
  2. Uh
  3. *scratches head*

You get the picture. Coverage was dreadful, tackling was embarrassing, and pass rush was non-existent. Pass rush will not matter much this week, as ECU will be looking to get the ball out as quickly as possible, but tackling in particular could be the difference in winning and giving up another 700 yards.

The most glaring hole in the South Carolina defense was the lack of a leader, someone who could step up, take responsibility, and fire up the rest of the defense.

It has been encouraging to hear that the intensity has been taken up a notch at practice this week, with more contact and more guys getting after it.

Good teams can bounce back from a humiliating loss and use it as motivation the next week. Great teams can bounce back from a humiliating loss and use it as motivation the rest of the season.

There are holes in the Gamecock defense that cannot be filled simply because they lack personnel, namely at pass rush, but if they are to be a great team, they can overcome a weakness, even a glaring one, by playing as a unit rather than a group of individuals.

If this game is a shootout (this will be weird to read), the smart money is on South Carolina to make a timely play or force a turnover, and it will likely come down to that.

Gamecocks make improvements defensively, do enough offensively, and pull through late: 41-34

 

 

  • John Stone

    Most impressive pre-game report I’ve ever read. I’m 49. Count me a fan.

    • Pearson Fowler

      Thanks so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it!