Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feelin’ Cocky: Gamecocks Ready for ‘Bama

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 03:  Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks watches on from the sidelines against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their game at Carter-Finley Stadium on September 3, 2009 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
When the 2010 football schedule was released, the Alabama/South Carolina game was promptly circled. The media circled the game and South Carolina fans…circled the game.

The ingredients were in place for an upset. Alabama would finally lose a regular season game for the first time since 2007.

South Carolina would have a bye week before facing Alabama, and the Crimson Tide would enter Williams-Brice Stadium “beaten and battered” after having colossal games against Arkansas and Florida…without time to rest and recover.

How have things panned out? Were all the “projections” fulfilled?

As expected, the contest with Arkansas was tough and came down to the wire. However, the huge showdown with the Florida Gators was nothing more than an exercise in basic fundamentals and domination.

The Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the contest against the Gamecocks with a perfect record and perched at the No. 1 position.

South Carolina on the other hand, will enter the game with one loss (at Auburn) and hold the No. 19 position in the AP top 25.

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 11: South Carolina Gamecocks mascot Cocky celebrates during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 17-6. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Alabama is good (if not better) than many people expected, while South Carolina is “solid” but certainly not astonishing.

However, “certainly not astonishing” is the substance upsets are built upon.

The “order of ingredients” may have changed, but overall, this game was rightfully circled on the college football calendar.

From a defensive standpoint, the Gamecocks know what they need to do in order to limit the offensive production of Alabama.

Every college football coach, team and fan in the country knows what needs to be done in order to contain Alabama’s offense.

However, in traditional game preview fashion, let us “flip the field” and take a closer look at the South Carolina offense and the problems they could present for the Alabama defense.

At the quarterback position, the Gamecocks are led by Stephen Garcia. During his time in a South Carolina uniform, Garcia has been the hero…and also the target of ridicule.

In respect to a proper example, Stephen Garcia is the “quarterback version” of Les Miles. When he’s good…he's very good, but when he’s bad…he’s horrid.

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Stephen Garcia  of the South Carolina Gamecocks looks to pass against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Garcia is known for making the “big play,” but history has shown that Garcia is also known for making the critical mistake…at the most inopportune time.

On the 2010 season, Garcia has thrown for 743 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Gamecocks definitely do not operate a two-quarterback system, but backup Connor Shaw certainly brings a different dynamic to the offense.

Shaw can not only throw…he can run.

Shaw is only 12-of-18 on the season for 144 yards, but his presence against Alabama is certainly not out of the question.

On the ground, the Gamecocks are led by one of the most dynamic running backs in the nation…Marcus Lattimore.

Regarded as the top running back in the country as a high school senior, Lattimore has wasted little time in making the transition to major college football.

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 11: Tailback Marcus Lattimore  of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball while guard Rokevious Watkins  looks on during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 17-6. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
South Carolina will utilize Brian Maddox on occasion, but Lattimore is the “life” of the rushing attack for the Gamecocks.

On the season, Lattimore has rushed for 366 yards and six touchdowns. The Carolina freshman also averages 4.4 yards per carry.

The ground game is certainly vital for Alabama, but a solid rushing attack is equally important, and possibly more so, for South Carolina.

If Lattimore is not effective, Stephen Garcia will have to go to the air more often and put the pressure on his receivers to make plays.

Thankfully for Garcia and the South Carolina offense, the Gamecocks have two of the best receivers in college football…Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley.

In respect to Alshon Jeffery, what more can be said?

The South Carolina wide receiver leads the SEC in receptions and receiving yards per game. Jeffery has caught 27 passes for 498 yards and two touchdowns this season. The South Carolina standout also averages 18.4 yards per reception.

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25: Alshon Jeffery  of the South Carolina Gamecocks reacts after catching a touchdown reception against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tori Gurley is the second leading receiver for the Gamecocks in 2010. Gurley has been on the receiving end of 12 passes for a total of 114 yards and two touchdowns.

The one thing Gurley and Jeffery have in common, other than amazing ability…is size! Jeffery stands 6-foot-4, 233 pounds and Gurley stands 6-foot-5, 230 pounds.

When a quarterback has tall and talented receivers, the “perfect pass” may not always be required.

The Alabama secondary will have to find a way to guard against fade
patterns…especially in the “red zone” area of the field.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 11: Trent Richardson  of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
As mentioned above, the whole country knows what is required to limit the offensive production of Alabama.

However, for the third week in a row, the Crimson Tide defense must meet the challenge of another resourceful offensive team.

The Alabama offense is strong, proficient, and well-balanced.

However, as will be the case with the majority of SEC games this season, the final outcome will be determined by the Crimson Tide defense.

In a similar fashion to the Alabama/Arkansas contest, the atmosphere and crowd will unquestionably be “electric” at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The ingredients for an upset have been prepared, all South Carolina needs to do…is take the heat from the kitchen.

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