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2019 Season Opponents Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

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Good news! The Tigers can win this game because neither Connor Shaw nor Deebo Samuel are on the roster!

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina Gamecocks

Last Season: 7-6 (4-4)

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina
There are 120+ picture of Will Muschamp in our galleries and they all look like this
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Will Muschamp – 4th year (former Auburn DC)

Overall Record: 50-38 (29-27)

School Record: 22-17 (12-12)

Offensive Coordinator: Bryan McClendon – 2nd year (former South Carolina WRs coach)

Defensive Coordinator: Travaris Robinson – 4th year (former Auburn DBs coach)

Last Game Against Mizzou: 2018 at Williams-Brice Stadium, won 37-35

This Year: Faurot Field – Columbia, MO – September 21st, TBD

Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 18th

Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 16th

Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 36th

Returning Production: 66% – 68% Offense, 64% Defense (45th in the nation)

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-South Carolina vs Virginia
Bentley is finally old enough to not “supposed to be in high school” anymore!
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Players to Watch

-Jake Bentley – QB – SR: 240-388 (61.9%)/3,171 yards/27 TDs/14 INTs/20 sacks/7.43 ypa

-45 rushes/216 yards/2 TDs/4.8 ypc/48.9% OPP rate/0 fumbles

-Rico Dowdle – RB – SR: 123 rushes/654 yards/4 TDs/5.32 ypc/51.2% OPP rate/3 fumbles

-26 targets/14 catches (53.9%)/133 yards/1 TD/9.5 ypc/5.1 ypt/6.1% tr

-Bryan Edwards – WR – SR: 92 targets/55 catches (59.8%)/846 yards/7 TDs/15.4 ypc/9.2 ypt/21.6% tr

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Players to Watch

-Javon Kinlaw – DT – SR: 29.5 tackles/21 solo/10 TFLs/4.5 sacks/0 INTs/5 PBUs/2 FFs/57.6% (!) HAVOC

-T.J. Brunson – MLB – SR: 82.5 tackles/59 solo/10.5 TFLs/4 sacks/0 INTs/1 PBU/1 FF/15.2% HAVOC

-Jaycee Horn – CB – SO: 37.5 tackles/30 solo/4 TFLs/2 sacks/0 INTs/8 PBUs/0 FFs/32% HAVOC

Preview

I’m certainly not an expert on the subject matter or anything, but I have no issue with Missouri’s “weak” rivalry with Arkansas. The biggest influencer on that opinion stems from the fact that we do have an excellent rivalry in the SEC, and you just need to look to the East instead of the South. As far as I see it, the ingredients for a solid sports rivalry breaks down as such:

- Similarities between the two fan bases

-Fairly even win-loss record

-Memorable games on the field

-Conflict off the field

-General saltiness between fan bases

So how does South Carolina stack up? Well, South Carolina (and Arkansas) was Missouri (and Texas A&M) before Missouri even joined. Up until 1992, the Gamecocks were independents but took an opportunity to join a conference as soon as a spot was open. Although a tremendous geographical and cultural fit, Cocky was seen as an “outsider” in the conference, much like Missouri is viewed now. They are a solid, if not spectacular, program that has had various amounts of success across college football history, have won their division multiple times but not their conference, and historically have recruited worse than the SEC median and relied on player development. Hell, they even live in a town called Columbia! Clearly, the two fan bases have a decent amount of similarities while also having an almost even win-loss record, with Cocky having a slight lead of 5-4. Of the 9 games played between the two programs, the average margin of victory is 9 points, 7 points if you remove the 21-point beat down of 2012. And of those games, you have the tremendous Tiger comeback in the ‘05 Independence Bowl, the demoralizing “Connor %&@ing Shaw” game, the miraculous victory in 2014, and the monsoon-delayed sucker punch of last year. The Dawn Staley defamation suit certainly added some fuel to the rivalry fire and some of the nastiest SEC fan interactions I’ve seen have come from South Carolina fans. So, I’d certainly say we have a healthy rivalry with Columbia East and, honestly, it makes playing them way more fun… and devastating.

Games against Spurrier teams were always memorable, for better or worse, but games against Muschamp teams have been brutal. Part of that is by design: Will Muschamp can coach the hell out of a defense and, for most of his career, fields an offense that does just enough to put his defense in favorable positions. That leads to a lot of close games, both against really good teams but also inferior teams as well. The 2016 match up benefited Cocky when they ran into first-year head coach Barry Odom and the baby Tigers still trying to find their way. In 2017, Missouri had a tremendous quarter and a half, but then Deebo Samuel broke the game open and the Tigers never recovered. The 2018 game was the closest yet but… well, we know how that ended up. Point is, it would be really nice to have a good feeling after Missouri plays South Carolina but, both by design and match up, it’s questionable if the Tigers can deliver.

Offensively, the Gamecocks return 68% of last year’s 21st ranked unit, including 4-year starting quarterback Jake Bentley, 1,600+ career rusher Rico Dowdle, and 2,200+ career receiver Bryan Edwards. The stable of running backs returns over 1,300 yards, but they gained that while ranking 87th in rushing S&P+. In other words, there’s experience, but it’s certainly not the way that they beat you. The way they beat you last year was in the passing game, ranking a healthy 22nd in S&P+ that returns 7 of their top 8 pass catchers. For both the offense and defense, the passing game is most reliant on experience to find success and having that many guys back from last year is daunting for Gamecock opponents. That being said, Edwards and Deebo Samuel were targeted 43% of the time, while the rest of the top 8 combined for just 44% of the total targets but still, the experience is there. The line loses two starters (including All-SEC 2nd teamer Zack Bailey) and two rotational guys, but return 4 guys with at least one start under their belt. Past that is a ton of underclassmen, so if injuries bite in camp or early in the season the line can fall apart quickly.

Last year’s defense ranked 40th in S&P+ and returns a similar amount of production, 64% to be exact. A d-line that was abused on the ground only loses 2 rotational pieces while returning 8 guys who saw extended snaps. Again, the run defense was bad… 81st in overall rushing, 122nd on standard downs (1st and 10, 2nd and 5, 3rd and 3) but, for what it’s worth, bottled up the run on obvious passing downs. Keep an eye on Javon Kinlaw, a massive defensive tackle who committed a havoc play (TFL, defensed pass, forced fumble) on a whopping 57.6% of the plays he defensed. The linebackers only lose Bryson Allen-Williams while returning every other backer with experience from last year. They will be powered by T.J. Brunson who recorded 11% of the team’s total tackles by himself while logging 10.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. The pass defense, which ranked a healthy 34th, loses their top two corners and safety which bodes well for the Tiger passing attack. Jaycee Horn was a threat whether he lined up at corner or nickel, but the experience in the secondary is all sophomores or younger. Jamel Cook transfers in from USC (the REAL one), and freshman Cameron Smith was a 4-star coming out of Westwood High School, but relying on new blood early on is not a recipe for immediate success.

I certainly do not enjoy being hyperbolic, but I can’t stress enough how important this game is in so many different ways. It is the first SEC game. The first divisional game. The first game against an opponent who barely beat you the year prior. The first game against a team that has a winning streak against us. The first game that has a returning production greater than 54% (Cocky is at 66% overall). The first game against a team with a tenured coach AND a coaching staff that had almost no turnover (only a new running backs and defensive line coach). And it’s a team that’s seemingly had your number for the entirety of Missouri’s SEC career: the overall series has Mizzou winning 4 games and South Carolina winning 5, but Cocky has won all 5 of those games since we moved to the SEC. Thanks to South Carolina’s incredibly brutal schedule, it’ll be tough for them to win the division, but for Missouri, they must win this one. Not only for division champion aspirations, but it also would be great if Barry could finally win an SEC opener to avoid the early season malaise that has fallen on Faurot Field for the past three seasons. The game is in (the real!) Columbia, and if you subscribe to the “body blow theory” of “Alabama makes the teams they beat worse the next week” then you’re in luck; the Crimson Tide play Cocky right before they make the trip to our place. This game has a whiff of shootout potential and you just have to anticipate that it’s going to be 60 agonizing minutes of back and forth action. Because it’s South Carolina and Odom always loses the SEC opener, I’ll say South Carolina takes this game in another close, frustrating loss. Prove me wrong please!