Gamecock Man over at Garnet and Black Attack and I exchanged a few questions about this Saturday evening's SEC opener for both schools, coming off contrasting season openers against border-state ACC foes. As you can see from the answers I gave his questions, I'm not as optimistic as I once was about this matchup having seen what the Dawgs look like so far this season. But let's get to know a little more about the folks we'll be welcoming into Athens this coming weekend.
1) So we all know about Jadeveon Clowney, tell us about some of the other parts of South Carolina's defense. Who has stepped up alongside Clowney, is replacing Swearinger in the secondary, and emerged among the young LBs?
On the defensive line, Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, and Darius English are all players to keep your eyes on in addition to Clowney. These are all playmakers who can get into the backfield and be disruptive, and they all get a lot of beneficial matchups because of all the attention given to Clowney.
Kadetrix "J.J." Marcus and T.J. Gurley have replaced Swearinger at free safety. Marcus started the first game. He'll be out against UGA with a shoulder injury, but Gurley should be a capable replacement. Both are young but have a lot of potential. The other positions in the secondary are manned by more experienced players, Brison Williams at strong safety and Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree at the corners. I have high hopes for our corner duo, although they didn't play as well as I had hoped against UNC.
At linebacker, the starters are Kaiwan Lewis at ILB, Marquis Roberts or Cedrick Cooper (Cooper was injured last week) at OLB, and Sharrod Golightly at spur. The linebacking corps had a decent game against UNC, whose perimeter passing game tested its ability to shed blocks, take good angles, and finish tackles. There were some mistakes here and there, but the overall results were positive.
One of the stories of the week was the play of true freshman linebacker Skai Moore, who moved up the depth chart at OLB due to the injury to Cooper. Moore finished with six tackles, one for a loss, and highly impressed the coaching staff.
Obviously, it will be very interesting to see if our linebacking corps is able to contain Gurshall this weekend. We had success keeping the UGA tailbacks from breaking outside for big runs last year, and it will be a challenge to do so again.
2) I think Connor Shaw is among the more underrated QBs in the country, convince my fellow Dawgs why this is the case.
Shaw is not an elite passing QB. His arm strength is slightly lower than what you would like, particularly intermediate throws where "zip" is required, and he sometimes doesn't see open receivers down field, either due to height or because he tends to take off running as soon as he feels pressure. What makes Shaw valuable is that he doesn't make mistakes. South Carolina's defenses have been good enough the past two years to win most games as long as the offense doesn't turn the ball over, and Shaw is an exceptionally mistake-free QB. Second of all, if he's not an elite passer, he's proven to be good enough to keep defenses honest. He's accurate on deep throws over the top, is reasonably efficient on the intermediate routes, and knows how to keep the chains moving by dumping the ball off to his check-down targets. Lastly, his running ability opens the zone-read up and allows him to keep the chains moving on scrambles. In short, his style of play may not lead to many "wow" moments, but it's remarkably efficient and helps us win games.
3) South Carolina doesn't have the big game breaker we've become accustomed to in Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffrey. What should be expected out of Ellington, Byrd, Roland, and the rest?
South Carolina hopes that Shaq Roland can be the go-to receiver, but his performance remains uneven. He had a big catch at the beginning of the game against UNC, but later dropped what would have been a second touchdown pass. Consistency is a major issue for him. Ellington is a more proven commodity. He was somewhat limited with injury last week, but should be ready to play a bigger role against UGA. He's not a big player, obviously, but has breakaway speed to get over the top of the defense and shows a lot of elusiveness gaining yards after the catch. Byrd is the fastest player on the team and is great for going over the top; Carolina would like him to show more versatility and do additional things, though. Nick Jones is a solid possession receiver. Kane Whitehurst and K.J. Brent both had solid catches against UNC. The TEs are also very dangerous, particularly if Busta Anderson returns from injury this week.
4) How is South Carolina health wise? Will we see TE Busta Anderson and C Cody Waldrop Saturday, or is anyone of significance expected miss the game?
South Carolina should be healthier against UGA than it was against UNC. Busta Anderson (hamstring) and OLB Cedrick Cooper (sprained wrist) sat out against UNC, and WR Bruce Ellington (hamstring) and TE Jerrell Adams (don't recall his injury; think it was something with his foot) had missed significant practice time in the weeks leading up to the opener and were somewhat limited against UNC. Right now, the coaches seem optimistic that Anderson and Cooper will be ready to play against UGA, while Ellington and Adams should be closer to or at 100%. The ankle injury to Cody Waldrop isn't supposed to cause him to miss time. The one major injury against UNC was that starting free safety Kadetrix "J.J." Marcus hurt his shoulder in the game and is expected to miss a week. This shouldn't be a terribly costly injury, though, as Marcus was fighting T.J. Gurley to maintain the starting spot, and Gurley should be ready to take on a bigger role against UGA.
5) Spurrier is starting to get up there in age (turned 68 in April), how much longer will he last? After Shawn Elliott turned down opportunities at Bama and elsewhere last winter, is he in line to take over once Spurrier does decide on 36 holes a day instead of 18?
It's really hard to say with Spurrier. On the one hand, I'm not sure anyone expected him to last ten years at Carolina, but he's entering his ninth and appears to be going strong. At this point, it wouldn't shock me if he stayed another five, as long as things continue trending in a positive direction and he's still having fun. What could cause him to leave would be (1) winning an SEC Championship. His goal is clearly to win a conference championship, and if he wins one, he might decide he has nothing left to prove and ride off into retirement. (2), a really disappointing season might do it. If things go south, he might decide he doesn't have another rebuilding job in him. Although the SEC Championship would help, his legacy is largely secure, so he could leave without too many regrets after a bad year, although it's obviously not the capstone he intends.
Based on the events with 'Bama, you'd have to assume there have been talks between Ray Tanner, Spurrier, and Shawn Elliott regarding Elliott's role once Spurrier retires. I would think Tanner would at least put feelers out in anticipation of a national search, but Elliott would provide some continuity to the Spurrier era and appears to have the makings of a solid head coach.
Bonus: Score prediction?
This game comes down to two things in my view: (1), USC has to limit the UGA running game. If USC is able to force third-and-long situations, its pass rush will cause havoc for UGA. (2), Connor Shaw has to play well on the road. I like USC's running game to play well based on what I saw from both teams last weekend, but Shaw has to play better on the road than he has in the past. If these things happen, I think USC wins 27-24.
Thanks again to Gamecock Man, and of course...