Kelcy Quarles doubtful against potent offense
In the early moments of last weekend’s tough loss at Tennessee, No. 21 South Carolina’s defense looked more like a force to be reckoned with than it had all season.
But the 23 points the unit allowed proved to be too much in the end, and coach Steve Spurrier said that when the Gamecocks line up against a No. 5 Missouri team that scores 44.3 points per game, they will need to play their best game of the year.
“Their offense has been outstanding,” Spurrier said. “They’ve done some really good recruiting there at Missouri, which you have to do if you’re going to be a top team.”
The South Carolina defense allowed its third-fewest points of the season in last weekend’s losing effort, giving the unit a reason to be optimistic despite the loss. But redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcquis Roberts said the defense is far from where it would like to be.
“We had a pretty good game last week,” Roberts said. “But it wasn’t good enough, so we’ve got to keep getting better.”
While the Volunteers’ offense proved formidable, the offensive unit South Carolina will face in the other Columbia this week will make the task of getting better a tall order.
When the Tigers’ star quarterback, senior James Franklin, injured his shoulder in a win over Georgia, Missouri’s future looked bleak.
But redshirt freshman Maty Mauk dazzled in his first career start last week against Florida, throwing for 295 yards and a touchdown and adding another score on the ground.
Despite the change in quarterback for the Tigers, Spurrier doesn’t think the Missouri offense will look much different than it did with Franklin under center.
“I think they’re running their offense with this young man, who’s a very good player, Maty Mauk,” Spurrier said. “He’s a very good player, and they throw it down the field.”
The receivers down the field are an intimidating bunch in their own right. The unit is headlined by the class of 2012’s No. 1 recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, at wide receiver along with L’Damian Washington, who is tied for the ninth-most receiving touchdowns in the nation.
As secondary coach Grady Brown prepares his defensive backfield for a Missouri receiving corps with a serious size advantage, he is stressing the importance of playing tough to his cornerbacks and safeties.
“It’s really mental. I don’t think we can teach anything differently,” Brown said. “We can’t go into the game playing timid or anything like that. You just have to have a mental edge.”
The only significant injury in Brown’s secondary is redshirt freshman Chaz Elder. The strong safety was inactive for the Tennessee game and is questionable for Saturday’s contest.
The South Carolina defensive line is slightly more banged up, as junior Kelcy Quarles and redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon are uncertain after they sustained injuries last weekend.
Returning to the field Saturday will be junior free safety Kadetrix Marcus, who was the latest Gamecock to feel the impact of college football’s new targeting rule.
Marcus was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit early in the first quarter against Tennessee, and Spurrier said that after watching the tape of the play, the rule was implemented correctly. Spurrier added that making the game safer is of paramount concern.
A win in Saturday’s matchup with the Tigers will keep South Carolina’s hopes of reaching the SEC championship game for the first time since 2010 alive, but a loss would prove devastating for the program’s chances.
“That’s the reason you play the game,” Brown said. “The chance to step into an arena against a really good football team on a really big stage, you know that you’ll have to make plays and make tackles and things of that nature. So it’s absolutely a big-time opportunity for us.”