It's time again for our annual Q&A with South Carolina Gamecocks blog Garnet And Black Attack. We have been doing this Q&A every year for quite a while now, and it's probably our longest-running Q&A with any other community.
Here is the link to my answers to their questions.
Let's get right to it — my questions are bold and their answers are in italics.
1. What is the status of Connor Shaw, and do you think he will start the game, or come off the bench?
Shaw sprained his shoulder against Central Florida, and he was originally projected to miss at least a week of play. However, he shocked Gamecock Nation by practicing on Monday, and after a couple of good practices, it was announced that he would start against UK. The injury was apparently not as bad as projected, and plus, Shaw is a notably tough player who has frequently played through injury. That said, Spurrier mentioned that Dylan Thompson would play frequently in this game. My feeling is that it would be best for Thompson to take the game; he’s good enough to carry USC to the win, and, with all due respect to UK, USC needs a healthy Shaw for more challenging upcoming contests. I suspect Spurrier agrees, but wants to give his team leader the start to build morale heading into a tough road trip. My guess is that if USC takes an early lead, Spurrier lets Thompson play most of the game unless UK takes a lead at some point. Of course, there's also always the possibility that Thompson gets the start as a game-time decision if Shaw's shoulder is sore Saturday. Spurrier isn't one to try to sandbag through the media, but Shaw's attempts to play through injury have led to some gameday suspense in the past. If that were to happen, I would expect Thompson to play the whole game unless he really struggled and Shaw managed to get in at some point.
2. South Carolina is currently 9th in the SEC in scoring offense. We never expected the Gamecocks to be Georgia or Texas A&M, but why is that ranking so low? Do you think it's a problem going forward?
Not to nitpick, but South Carolina has a better offense than that. At points, South Carolina’s offense has been outright explosive. However, a few things are holding the numbers back. First of all, the Gamecocks are probably the only team in the SEC that hasn’t played a non-BCS opponent, so we haven’t had one of those games where we’ve padded our stats against a mediocre team. Second of all, there have been some weird factors in our games that have limited our offense at different points. Against UNC and Vandy, we exploded in the first half. However, against UNC, there was a lightning delay in the second half, and when the teams came back out after 10 PM, Spurrier called it a day and bled the clock. Against Vandy, the Gamecocks spent a lot of the second half on defense due to special teams turnovers. Against UCF, South Carolina’s offense struggled in the first half due to the injury to Shaw, but then exploded in the second after adjusting. South Carolina’s offense is fully capable of putting up 40 or 50 points if it gets the opportunity to play a full game.
3. Kentucky is currently sitting at 1 win against a weak MAC school against 3 losses. What, if anything, concerns you about the Wildcats offensively? Defensively?
Obviously, Kentucky has struggled offensively against the better defensive teams it’s played, but it needs to be pointed out that South Carolina has struggled at times on defense this year. This is not the kind of vintage South Carolina defense that has helped us win so many games over the past few years; this year, the offense is our strength. Unless South Carolina plays better than it has so far, Kentucky should have opportunities to move the ball. South Carolina has been better against the run than against the pass, as its defensive strength is on the line. However, the linebackers are very inexperienced and prone to missed assignments and so forth. If Kentucky has a wildcat package, this would be a good time to use it, as South Carolina has struggled to play disciplined against the wildcat. Even more so, though, South Carolina struggles against the pass. Our two starters at corner and their main backup are good, but the young linebackers and safeties make us vulnerable in the middle of the field. Kentucky should work its crossing patterns, drag routes, and so forth and see if it can catch South Carolina out of position and get some big plays. The Wildcats have enough playmakers on offense to hurt South Carolina in this manner if the Wildcats execute.
Defensively, I frankly think Kentucky is going to struggle quite a bit in this game. As I’ve said, South Carolina’s offensive numbers are deceptive, and the Gamecocks can really execute on offense when they want to. One place where Kentucky might be able to do damage is when Thompson gets in; Thompson tends to put the ball in danger more than Shaw, and if Kentucky wants to make this game interesting, it will probably need to force some turnovers. However, given Kentucky’s struggles against the run, I would expect South Carolina to move the ball easily on the ground with Mike Davis and the Gamecocks’ high-performing offensive line. That should keep Shaw/Thompson from having to do much more through the air than keep Kentucky honest.
4. Who is the best defensive player not named Jadeveon Clowney for the Gamecocks? What makes him your choice?
Probably CB Victor Hampton. Hampton makes mental mistakes occasionally, but when focused, he’s an excellent cover corner. Receivers have to work hard to make plays against him, and he’ll occasionally wow you with those kinds of heady, extremely athletic plays on the ball that only NFL corners make, which, by the way, is what he will be next year.
5. What do you think is the biggest key to the game against Kentucky for the Gamecocks to win?
The Gamecocks need to continue to run the football well and avoid putting the ball in danger. I doubt Kentucky wins this game unless it forces some game-changing turnovers.
6. Predict the score, and generally how the game goes.
I expect South Carolina to attempt to provide some fireworks early. If it can jump out to an early lead, Thompson will come in and the Gamecocks will go to a fairly conservative offense, using the run to try to move the ball methodically. Kentucky will probably be able to move the ball at times in the game, maybe getting a big play or two, but the ‘Cats won’t have much success against USC’s offense. Final score will be 42-14 or so.