Each game has its certain matchups within the game that are oh so very important to the outcome. Matchups so important that they can be the difference in a win and a loss. For every game this season, I’ll be taking a look at the three most important matchups regarding an individual or even between position groups.
Missouri Defense vs Kevin Harris
Any chance of a Gamecock victory will start and end with their star running back, Kevin Harris. Ole Miss sure tried to, and they got ran over by Harris for 243 yards.... and FIVE, yes FIVE touchdowns. Last week wasn’t the first time he’s been an effective runner. Harris actually leads the SEC in rushing yards (by over 100 yards), attempts, and is second in the conference respectively in both rushing touchdowns and yards per rush (6.24). He’s a battering ram.
While I don’t think that he will do anything to that level, I think he has a trait very similar to our very own Larry Rountree III, in that he wears people down. In South Carolina’s two wins (Auburn and at Vanderbilt) this year, he has had over 20 carries and provided a nice complement to their mediocre at best passing game. Scoring early could be a nice way of using game flow to keep South Carolina’s offense one dimensional.
The whole defense is going to be challenged, but I’m particularly interested in seeing how the defensive line holds up at the point of attack. With the opt-outs, COVID tracing, and general injuries, this group will be tested throughout this game. Can they hold up for four quarters? Missouri hasn’t played in three weeks and is now being forced to move offensive lineman to play defensive line in order to maintain adequate positional guidelines relating to COVID.
Drinkwitz: Freshman center Drake Heismeyer has moved to D-line to add depth. Some WRs are cross-training at DB this week.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 17, 2020
Connor Bazelak vs South Carolina Secondary
With two starting corners — and three corners overall — opting out after the firing of Will Muschamp, Connor Bazelak is going to have to be ready to make them pay. Even before the opt outs, this secondary wasn’t very good. They were 10th in the conference in passing yards per game, giving up 2.6 touchdowns per game to opposing quarterbacks. Point being, you can throw against this defense.
Last time out, against a Florida secondary who was also missing key players in the secondary, Bazelak was slightly underwhelming. He was a bit off target, missed a few of his reads, and after taking a couple shots from the defense, you could see him rushing a bit to go through progressions. His offensive line did him absolutely no favors, but he has to respond to pressure in a better way.
In a day where his offensive line may again be in flux, it’ll be up to Bazelak to keep the short and intermediate game sharp to try and get the Gamecock defense on their heels a bit.
Jarvis Ware and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. vs Shi Smith
It seems like there’s always a South Carolina receiver who torments Missouri. I always think about Pharoah Cooper, I think Deebo Samuel, I think Bryan Edwards.
Shai Smith is fully capable of being the next guy on that list. He’s already their leading receiver and is on pace to smash his career high in receiving yards. This is all while enduring subpar quarterback play.
When you see him on the field, he’s not necessarily the biggest guy out there, but the second the ball is snapped, he stands out as someone who is capable of making your defense look silly. Kind of like this:
The Tigers will have to avoid letting Shi Smith take over the game, especially since it will be one of his last games in his home stadium. In particular, avoiding mental mistakes and communicating early in the play clock can go a long way in making sure that everyone feels comfortable in their assignment. Oh, and when Shi does get his 7-10 yard completion, it is so critical for the Tigers to wrap up and make consistent tackles against him. This was a huge issue against Florida (and Kadarius Toney), so correcting that ASAP would be helpful!
This matchup isn’t unfair by any means. Rakestraw and Ware are capable cornerbacks who have had their moments this season. They’ve also been picked on at times too. Which version of these guys will we get to see this weekend?
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