South Carolina gets a fortunate draw this week as the Gamecocks will host 0-3 Central Florida. Though the Knights have been one of the top mid-majors in college football in the past few years, they have struggled mightily this season, ranking last in Division I in total offense.
The Gamecock defense currently ranks 108th out of 127 FBS teams, surrendering 471.7 yards per game and 7.3 yards per play in three games this season.
In many ways, the matchup NOT to watch is the Knight offense against the Gamecock defense. The Gamecocks should experiment with different schemes and coverages on the defensive side of the ball this week as they get the chance against an inferior opponent.
Keys To the Game
1. Defensive Aggression
Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert set the NCAA record for completion percentage against the Gamecocks last week in Athens. The Gamecock cornerbacks consistently played 10-12 yards off of the line of scrimmage and Lambert, like most other opposing quarterbacks, made the Gamecocks pay.
If South Carolina is to have any chance of slowing opposing passing games, the corners will have to line up within five yards of the line of scrimmage and actually attempt to disrupt opposing receivers’ routes. If not, opposing offensive coordinators will continue to gash the South Carolina defense with short, quick passes.
The Gamecock pass rush has been better this year, but has no hope of getting to the quarterback if receivers are open immediately and passers are able to get rid of the ball quickly. Against UCF’s 108th-ranked passing game, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to work on these shortcomings. If not, they may squeeze by this weekend, but will be lit up by other teams on the schedule.
2. Establish an Offensive Rhythm, and Keep It
The Gamecock offense has been atrocious in the first half this year. Against Georgia, true freshman Lorenzo Nunez provided the spark that kickstarted the offense’s first touchdown drive.
This week, Nunez will start. The Gamecocks have to take advantage of the speedster’s athleticism and get Nunez in the open field. Head coach Steve Spurrier needs to have a solid game plan and stick to it throughout the game.
The Gamecocks have gone into each game this season with a different game plan, and the offense has looked like it, never seeming to look completely in sync. Saturday provides an opportunity for the Gamecocks to create an identity. Whether Spurrier chooses to run a zone-read or option scheme or instead chooses a spread system, the offense this week should look similar to what the Gamecocks plan on running week in and week out.
3. Confidence Boosters
This doesn’t mean the offense should stick to easy, high-percentage throws, but rather that the Gamecocks should play as if they are setting the pace for the rest of the season. Spurrier should do anything he can do on both sides of the ball to help the players’ confidence.
The Gamecocks should essentially start from scratch this week. Based on the amount of personnel changes this week, it seems that they have. South Carolina has to ignore its 1-2 record and play as if it is 0-0. The Gamecocks have the opportunity to establish a bit of momentum this week heading into a winnable road game against Missouri.
If the Gamecocks are simply content to beat UCF this week it won’t do much for their confidence. They need to play well this week to start the rest of the season off right.
Players to Watch
Redshirt freshman receiver Matrick Belton caught his first pass as a Gamecock last week on Nunez’s first career throw. Often times when a backup becomes the starter, he will look to the guys he is more comfortable with rather than the team’s top target.
Nunez was 4-4 when targeting Belton last week and 0-1 when targeting other receivers. At 6-foot-4, Belton has the size to provide a mismatch for the Knights’ secondary.
On defense, redshirt junior T.J. Holloman is starting at MIKE linebacker. Junior Skai Moore, one of the lone bright spots for the Gamecocks this year, will move to the WILL position. Moore always puts himself in a position to make plays, and will be all over the field regardless of which linebacking spot he lines up at. Co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke hopes Holloman will be able to make some plays as well.
Playing in the middle, Holloman has the chance to stand out this week. He should be in a position to make plays against both the run and pass and will look to secure a starting spot with solid play this weekend.