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2013 Mizzou football preview: South Carolina has holes to fill ... and also has Clowney


The top three in the SEC East are a few steps ahead of everybody else. We know this. But among those top three, South Carolina has potentially the highest upside and the lowest downside. Best player in the country? Check. Two experienced quarterbacks? Check. Completely new linebacking corps whose leading returning tackler had 4.5 tackles (same as Mizzou's Marvin Foster) last year? Check.

From my 2013 SBN preview:

Issue: South Carolina returns only one of its top five running backs, and the ground game was really only above-average at best, even when Marcus Lattimore was healthy.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Issue: South Carolina also returns only one of its top four receiving targets from a passing game that was explosive but not incredibly efficient.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Issue: South Carolina must also replace its top five linebackers, not to mention stud safety D.J. Swearinger and stud end Devin Taylor from a defense that was perilously thin last year.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Now, if any single defensive player could carry a good team to greatness, it's Clowney. But he alone is not going to mask the other issues South Carolina had last year. To live up to even Top 10 hype, much less Top 3 hype, the Gamecocks are going to need some freshmen and sophomores to rather quickly come up big, and that's always a scary proposition.

When healthy, Marcus Lattimore always passes the eyeball test. He just looks like a future all-pro running back. But even before injuries, Lattimore didn't post irreplaceable numbers in 2011 or 2012. He was lost for the season with an awful knee injury for two straight years, and in neither season did South Carolina's numbers suffer without him.

Even if a back is replaceable, you still need to find someone to actually replace him. Kenny Miles is also gone, and Brandon Wilds didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2011; after an interesting freshman season, Mike Davis entered spring 2013 with a chance to seize control of the starting running back job, and it appears he did just that.

Davis' upside is high. He had a nice recruiting pedigree, and he easily showed more explosiveness than any other South Carolina back last year. If the Gamecocks are able to lean on him and set up both keepers by Shaw and downfield passing to Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, and company, they should put more than enough points on the board to roll through most of their 2013 schedule. The offensive line, decent to good last year, returns six players with starting experience and is big and mean in the middle. Davis should be able to take advantage of the running lanes the line generates.

One other hint that depth may have been an issue in 2012: South Carolina's defense was quite a bit worse in the second and fourth quarter than in the first and third. Again, this is a red flag considering how much South Carolina must replace from last year's two-deep. The second string on the defensive line will be extremely young, as will all strings at linebacker. […]

South Carolina's defensive line was as aggressive as they come, but it was only good, not great, against the run. The Gamecocks did rank just 33rd in Adj. Line Yards, showing some lapses on passing downs rushing (draw plays and scrambles against an ears-pinned-back pass rush) and defending short-yardage situations at something less than an elite level. But a fantastic set of experienced linebackers cleaned up messes and allowed the line to remain aggressive.

Can a unit made up almost entirely of freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores play at the same level? Probably not. And if the linebackers are struggling at times, South Carolina could find itself falling victim to even more passing downs rushes and short passes that go for longer gains. You might be able to make South Carolina pay for its aggressiveness a bit more in 2013.

South Carolina's biggest advantage

The Gamecocks' front seven is going to be incredibly inexperienced in 2013, and the secondary has to replace its most proven entity (D.J. Swearinger) as well. If Mizzou can keep the ball moving forward on standard downs, life is good. But if the Tigers fall into second- or third-and-long ... and Jadeveon Clowney can serve as a one-man blitz ... and a fast, active (and young) supporting cast can fan out ... yeah, let's not think about that. Let's just say that "passing downs defense" is South Carolina's biggest advantage.

Mizzou's biggest advantage

Even with Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina's rushing offense didn't do much against Missouri last year. Actually, it didn't do much in a lot of games. I've heard good things about Mike Davis and some of the South Carolina backs this offseason, but they are mostly unproven, and at this stage I think there's a pretty good chance Mizzou can force the 'Cocks to become one-dimensional. And there's no Ace Sanders in the receiving corps, either (though Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd are awfully fast).


It's hard to feel as good about this one as the Florida game, even ignoring last year's results. I think Florida's more of a known quantity this year, and South Carolina has a lot of new pieces that could make it really good or shaky. Oh yeah, and Clowney. Give me something like South Carolina 27, Mizzou 17.