Know Your Enemy: South Carolina Gamecocks
No. 5 Missouri will have an opportunity to build a three-game lead in the SEC East with four games remaining Saturday evening when it takes the field against No. 21 South Carolina for Homecoming.
“I just know that this is our eighth game this season,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We do not care whom we play, and we are going to try to play our best football. We only got twelve shots at this. Our players are aware of one thing, and that is keep playing and good things are going to happen. That is where our focus is at.”
For the second week in a row, Missouri will contend with a second-string quarterback. Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks’ usual starter, injured his knee against Tennessee and may dress, but definitely will not start Saturday afternoon in Columbia-West. In his place: junior Dylan Thompson.
“I think Dylan is ready to go,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’ll prepare as hard as he can this week, he will be ready to go give it his best shot, we know that. So, this is his time this year, it’s coming up.”
While the focus has been (and likely will continue to be) on the Gamecocks’ injuries, Missouri is by no means at 100 percent either. Quarterback James Franklin is out, while cornerback EJ Gaines remains questionable for this weekend’s tilt.
Led by freshman Maty Mauk, Mizzou pounded Florida 36-17 to open a two-game lead in the loss column in the SEC East. Mauk, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 295 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his first career start, orchestrated a 2-play, 76-yard drive to open the game for Missouri, capping it off with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bud Sasser.
“That felt really good; that got my nerves down, I was a little too hyped honestly,” Mauk said. “I just wanted to go out and play football again and for L’Damian [Washington] to come down with the first one, and then for Bud to score on the second one, that set the tone to where we wanted to play the whole game. Hats off to those guys, they played great.”
Tailback Henry Josey finished with 18 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown, while kicker Andrew Baggett knocked through a career-high five field goals.
The Tigers outgained the Gators 500-151 and became the first conference opponent in 14 games to score at least 21 points against them. That lop-sided performance was even more impressive considering Florida’s defense entered the game allowing just 235.3 yards per game.
While Mauk seemed to have no problem finding his rhythm against Florida’s usually-staunch defense, UF quarterback Tyler Murphy was sacked six times and managed just 91 passing yards.
For their efforts, Mauk and defensive lineman Michael Sam (3.0 sacks for 22 yards lost) garnered SEC Freshman Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week, respectively.
“I talked to the team about getting back to the grind. They know what the grind means,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “They have to have the discipline and mental toughness to handle all of this attention that will be thrown at them. That’s where I will lean on the seniors and captains.”
Mizzou ran its record to 7-0 on the season and debuted at No. 5 in the season’s first BCS standings.
Baffling timeout usage by coach Steve Spurrier late in the fourth quarter ultimately cost then-No. 11 South Carolina against Tennessee in Knoxville. Up 21-20 with about three minutes left, the Gamecocks burnt two of their three timeouts while deciding whether or not to go for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 26—they ultimately punted.
Tennessee’s offense responded, moving into field goal range about a minute later with a spectacular one-handed grab by freshman Marquez North, who, despite being blanketed by cornerback Ahmad Christian, managed to snare the pass with his left hand as he fell to the ground.
“Having a big body like [North] has and the athletics ability he has, you have to have confidence in being able to go up and throw the ball in one-on-one situations,” UT quarterback Justin Worley said. “I like my chances with Marquez, and he proved that today.”
With the Gamecocks down to just one timeout, the Vols focused on draining the clock, using four consecutive run plays to set up the game-winning field goal from two yards out with three seconds left.
“We were thinking about going for it [on fourth-and-2],” Spurrier explained. “We went up there and if it looked good we were thinking about going for it and then the second time they actually changed their defense a little bit. We thought we had a little bit of a hole there and we had a different play called. Looking back I always tell myself to go for those, but you look stupid if you leave them on the 30 yard line, and our defense was playing well”
SC quarterback Connor Shaw completed seven of 21 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown and an interception, before exiting the game with a sprained knee late in the fourth quarter.
Tailback Mike Davis carried the ball 21 times for 137 yards, while wide receiver Damiere Byrd caught four passes for 121 yards. As a team, the Gamecocks committed nine penalties for 84 yards and allowed Tennessee to rack up 325 yards of total offense.
South Carolina (5-2 overall) is now one of three SEC East teams with a 3-2 conference record.
Three Gamecocks to Watch
DE Jadeveon Clowney
Not much to say about this man that hasn’t already been said or written by hundreds of other writers. Clowney, who stares into the quarterback’s soul before each snap, explodes off the line of scrimmage and is often moved around along the defensive front to keep the opposition from getting to comfortable. Obviously, the move is to make sure your running plays are designed to go away from Clowney’s side of the field and that when Maty Mauk drops back to pass, he has an option in the shallow field to dump the ball off to when under durress (expect plenty of quick passing plays). While his numbers six games into the season are rather modest (5 1/2 tackles for a loss and two sacks), Clowney is coming off his best game of the season–five tackles, including this monstrous hit:
WR Damiere Byrd
After a rather sluggish start to the season, Byrd has caught fire with at least four catches in three of his last four games, including a season-best four catches for 121 yards against Tennessee on Saturday (a 76-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter skewed the numbers slightly, but it was a pretty impressive performance nonetheless). What makes Byrd special? His speed. The junior wide out is one of South Carolina’s top sprinters and actually anchored South Carolina’s 400-meter relay team that finished fourth in the SEC Championships. Getting pressure on the quarterback when he drops back to pass will help to neutralize Byrd, but expect Missouri to keep a safety over the top to help contain the speedy wide receiver.
RB Mike Davis
Davis has quietly put together a very nice season. The 5-9 sophomore leads the SEC in rushing with 879 yards (125.6 ypg) and 10 touchdowns (tied most in SEC). Considering the injuries along the offensive line and their recent struggles with pass protection, expect the Gamecocks to try and establish the run early on with Davis. With Shaw out for Saturday’s game, this is nothing more than a fun fact to know and tell, but Davis was very effective on those Read Option plays in the season-opener against UNC.
Matchup to Watch
- Steve Spurrier’s team is bad in the fourth quarter. The first signal of trouble came against Vanderbilt, when the Commodores notched two touchdowns to make things interesting (35-25) early in the fourth quarter. It got worse with Kentucky (out-scored the Cocks 21-8 in the final frame to pull within 7 with five minutes left) and UCF (tallied two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to make it a three-point game), before finally reaching its pinnacle on Saturday in Knoxville (UT scored a modest six fourth quarter points to upset SC, but there is absolutely a negative trend for SC in the fourth).
- To qualify that last point: the Cocks have been out-scored 64-42 in the fourth quarter thus far this season. Take away the Arkansas game and that margin grows to 64-28.
- South Carolina is mediocre (at best) away from Columbia-East. They lost to Georgia and Tennessee and had to stave off a furious fourth quarter charge from UCF in Orlando. In fact, the Gamecocks’ only “solid” road win came against Arkansas.
- This matchup sets up nicely for Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Through seven games, SC has allowed 14 sacks (tied for fifth most in SEC, average of two sacks per game). Center Cody Waldrop and guard Ronald Patrick are also likely to miss their second game in-a-row.
- Beware the Clowney.
- Fortunately for the Tigers, it appears that defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles (5 sacks, 4 in last 5 games) will miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury. That should allow the line to focus more of its attention on stopping Clowney.
- South Carolina’s offense is middle-of-the-road in most offensive categories, but it has been very good at converting on third down, posting a 49.5-percent conversion rate (third best in the SEC).
- Shutting down tailback Mike Davis early on will be imperative for the Missouri defense. While it certainly won’t be easy, forcing SC to abandon the run could prove to be the difference in the game.
- Mizzou cannot settle for field goals once it gets inside the red zone.
- Special teams, don’t forget about the special teams! If and when Missouri is forced to punt, downfield coverage will be crucial. Freshman Pharoh Cooper has returned five punts for 50 yards, including a 36-yard return against Arkansas.
A berth in the National Championship game was mentioned as an outside possibility for Mizzou towards the end of Sunday’s BCS Countdown show on ESPN. So, just for kicks and giggles, here are the remaining games for the BCS Top 10, with the more “dangerous” games in italics.
No. 1 Alabama: vs. Tennessee, vs. No. 13 LSU, at Mississippi St., vs. Chattanooga, at No. 11 Auburn
No. 2 Florida State: vs. NC State; vs. No. 7 Miami (FL); at Wake Forest; vs. Syracuse; vs. Idaho; at Florida
No. 3 Oregon: vs. No. 12 UCLA; at No. 6 Stanford; vs. Utah; at Arizona; vs. No. 25 Oregon State
No. 4 Ohio State: vs. Penn State; at Pudue; at Illinois; vs. Indiana; at No. 22 Michigan
No. 5 Missouri: vs. No. 21 South Carolina; vs. Tennessee; at Kentucky; at Ole Miss; vs. No. 16 Texas A&M
No. 6 Stanford: at No. 25 Oregon State; vs. No. 3 Oregon; at USC; vs. California; vs. Notre Dame
No. 7 Miami: vs. Wake Forest; at No. 2 Florida State; vs. No. 14 Virginia Tech; at Duke; vs. Virginia; at Pittsburgh
No. 8 Baylor: at Kansas; vs. No. 15 Oklahoma; vs. No. 10 Texas Tech*; at No. 19 Oklahoma State; at TCU; vs. Texas
No. 9 Clemson: at Maryland; at Virginia; vs. Georgia Tech; vs. Citadel; at No. 21 South Carolina
No. 10 Texas Tech: at No. 15 Oklahoma; vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State; vs. Kansas State; vs. No. 8 Baylor*; at Texas
- Obviously, Oregon and Alabama have the clearest path to the National Title game. Win and their in. As it stands now, both teams will play at least 2-3 more ranked teams between now and their respective conference championship, which will provide for a nice bump in their SOS’s.
- Ohio State’s schedule is a joke. Mizzou probably moves ahead of tOSU with a win Saturday against South Carolina. It will be interesting to see if a team like Texas Tech could move ahead of them as well (Tech has a much more difficult schedule than Baylor, who gets Oklahoma and Oklahoma State later in the season).
- Speaking of the Big 12, it looks like the Baylor/Texas Tech game on Nov. 16 will determine the conference champion…and who will get the conference’s only BCS bid. If Mizzou finishes with the regular season undefeated, but loses to Bama in the SEC Championship game, I think it gets an at-large BCS berth for sure. But even if the Tigers finish the year with two losses (one regular season plus SEC Championship game, I think they’ll still get it ahead of a team like Baylor or Tech–of course, that was the same thought process in 2007 when KU went to the Orange Bowl.)
Mizzou establishes an early lead, staves off 3rd quarter charge from SC, pulls away in the fourth. Mizzou by 17Brian Haenchen founded Hank’s Sports Blog in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (firstname.lastname@example.org).