As we have done virtually every year since Gamecock Man took over at the SB Nation South Carolina Gamecocks blog, Garnet And Black Attack, we have a few questions and answers for each other about Saturday's game.
This will be the sixth time Kentucky has faced the Gamecocks with Steve Spurrier has head coach, and so far, Kentucky is 0-5. There have been some close ones, to be sure, and the games have mostly been competitive, but the Gamecocks have managed to come away with a victory over the Wildcats every time.
The Spurrier streak also goes back to his days as head coach of the Florida Gators, but really this isn't about beating a head coach but a team. This is one of those streaks that, while annoying, isn't even on the same level with the Florida and Tennessee catastrophes. Still, it would be nice to put it to bed, but we'll be talking more about that tomorrow.
Right now, Gamecock Man has some great answers to my questions after the jump. For my answers to his questions, follow this link.
1. South Carolina looks like a serious BCS bowl contender this year. What's the biggest difference between the 7-6 USC of last year and the SEC East contender of this year?
A more competent offense is the biggest difference. From the first game of the season, you could see that Steve Spurrier was no longer tentative about opening up the playbook and spreading the ball around. That's partly because the basis of last year's more pedestrian, younger offense is now mature, but also because we have some new weapons. The biggest of those is obviously Marcus Lattimore; Lattimore has made a huge difference. When Carolina lacked a running game, the passing game was often put in the position of having to make big gains to get out of 3rd-and-long. This year, that's not the case. Lattimore has also made a major difference in the red zone, as he's a very reliable guy when it comes to knowing you're going to get that handful of yards you need to punch it in for six. Carolina hasn't been settling for FGs this year, and that equals more wins.
2. Despite having Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks are only 8th in the SEC in rushing this year. Why do you think that is, and do you think we'll be seeing more of the run game in the future?
Well, it should first be observed that since we have been near the bottom of the SEC in rushing for most of Spurrier's tenure here, we're happy with at least having something of a competent running game. As far as why we're not higher, I would say it's because we're taking what teams give us. We were able to move the ball in the air against Auburn and Alabama, so that's what we stuck with. Against Georgia, Spurrier stuck with the run, and I expect that will be the case again this year, depending on the opponent.
Are we a great running team? I'm not sure yet. But we're no longer the team of the past few years that's afraid to run the ball. We're confident that we can win with the ball on the ground this year when we have to.
3. Stephen Garcia has the second-highest quarterback rating in the SEC right now. What is different about Garcia this year, and what is he doing so well?
His decision-making is much better, and that's by far the biggest difference. For the longest time, Garcia did two things: he looked for the big play downfield, and if it wasn't there, he tried to scramble. This year, when the home run (usually to Alshon Jeffery) isn't there, Garcia usually gets rid of the ball to a checkdown back or receiver, and we've had a lot of success with those plays, partly because Lattimore and Brian Maddox are excellent receivers out of the backfield. Garcia is also much better about not throwing it into coverage. A final difference is that he seems to be more accurate on downfield throws, but that's really only been the case in the past two games, so we'll see if it's consistently true. He whiffed on a few deep throws against Southern Miss. and Georgia.
Garcia hasn't been perfect. The quarterback rating doesn't reflect his penchant for fumbling the ball. But we're hoping he learned his lesson there after the Auburn game.
4. Do USC fans think that this could finally be their year in the East? What is the mood of South Carolina football fans right now?
I'd say it's cautiously optimistic, but the caution is certainly turning into confidence after the 'Bama game. Carolina fans have seen the Gamecocks come out of the gate strong and fall flat on their face before, and I don't think any of us will be happy until we've actually punched our ticket to Atlanta. However, this Carolina team seems to be different. You said it yourself--this team looks like a possible BCS-bowl contender. Although they may have racked up a few early-season wins, former Carolina teams wouldn't have beaten a Southern Miss. so convincingly, and they wouldn't have beaten a national-title contender in Alabama, certainly not by 14 points. That, and the fact that Florida looks very beatable this year, has us feeling better about our chances.
A lot is riding on this game against the 'Cats. I think a lot of Carolina fans--and maybe the nation--will really start to believe in Carolina if it comes out strong and proves that it can play like it did against 'Bama week in and week out. If we struggle, though, it will cause us to fidget a bit as we stare down our late-season gauntlet of Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson.
5. South Carolina's rushing defense is second in the SEC at home, but dead last on the road. What do you think is the big reason for this discrepancy. Should UK look forward to big numbers on the ground against the Gamecocks?
Well, those numbers are a little bit deceiving: the reason we're dead last on the road is that we've played one road game, and that was at Auburn. Since you just played the Tigers, I'll leave it to you to judge why the numbers are so bad.
The story on Carolina's run defense is that we've been excellent against your standard, bread-and-butter running plays. We were even doing well against Auburn in this regard until late in the game, when fatigue began to play a factor. Where we've had a lot more trouble has been against mobile QBs, or particularly one mobile QB, the dreaded Cameron Newton. Newton gashed out play after play running the zone-read option.
What I would do if I were UK would be to give Randall Cobb the opportunity to see if he can duplicate Newton's success. Cobb obviously isn't as hard to take down as Newton, but in some ways Cobb is more explosive and could certainly make some big plays. On Carolina's end, while Cobb is in the game I would expect us to do what we did against 'Bama when the Tide had Mark Ingram take the snap--play the ball much more aggressively with run blitzes. Cobb is more elusive than Ingram and could make us pay for this approach a couple of times by breaking big gains, but the hope would probably be that most of the time we would limit him to losses or very short gains.
6. We've all heard about Randall Cobb. What is your opinion of him?
I think he's great. There's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the best players in the country. Anybody who can do as much as he does for his team commands my respect.