South Carolina struggled in their first two home games this year. They lost in a poor effort against Kentucky, and escaped versus Louisiana Tech with a one point victory. The Gamecocks go back on the road this weekend to face the Texas A&M Aggies. Coach Will Muschamp will need his guys to get back to the focus and execution they had in the first two ball games if they expect to return form College Station with a win.
South Carolina comes in at 3-1 (1-1 in SEC play), with two victories away from home already. The Aggies also sit at 3-1 and beat Arkansas in their only SEC contest so far. Both teams are fighting to stay relevant in the SEC race. This is a crucial game for each to try and stay on track.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has been squarely in the hot seat this season. The pressure was placed on him in the off-season to win big in 2017. That heat was ratcheted up even more after his team blew a 34-point lead in the opener and lost by a point to UCLA. If not for that collapse in southern California, Texas A&M would be undefeated and likely in the top 15 in the country. People are still waiting to see if the Aggies are the team that dominated UCLA for three quarters, or the one that folded up under late game pressure. They did find a way to execute down the stretch in an overtime win against the Razorbacks last weekend.
Texas A&M is led by their running game. They average 260 yards per game on the ground. Three different running backs have over 200 yards rushing and average over five yards a carry through four games. Trayveon Williams has 328 yards and four scores on the ground. He is the definition of a combo back. Williams is tough enough to gain yards between the tackles, and fast enough to break away for big gains. Quarterback Kellen Mond has been more effective with his legs than his arm thus far. He is only completing 50% of his passes and has struggled to find a rhythm at times. His main playmaker on the outside is Christian Kirk, who is one of the most explosive players in the country.
Get Back On Track
The Aggies defense has struggled this season. The Gamecocks offense has struggled this season. These two opposing realities collide on Saturday. South Carolina’s offensive struggles have been well documented, but they have a chance to get back on track this weekend. The Gamecocks will need a fast start to build some early confidence. A few deep pass attempts early would do them well against a defense allowing 300 yards through the air per game. Jake Bentley needs to find rhythm, and get playmakers like Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards involved. For a team ranked 118th nationally in rushing offense, getting backs Ty’Son Williams and Rico Dowdle going early would help. Look for a few wrinkles as well, such as utilizing freshman Shi Smith on some speed sweeps.
Bending Not Breaking
The Gamecock defense has done just enough through four games so far. They have not been dominant, but have made the plays needed to win in all four games. Coach Muschamp’s defense sits at 90th nationally in yards allowed per game. However, the Gamecocks are only 39th in points given up at 20 points per game. The ability to force turnovers and tighten up in the red zone has been the key to their success. Rashad Fenton has emerged as a very good cover corner. Jamarcus King is playing better on the other corner after a shaky start. Tackling in open space will be paramount versus an A&M team that will spread you out and try to run right at you. The Aggies will move the ball, so forcing turnovers and holding them to field goals will again be a key.
South Carolina is back on the road and back in the underdog role this weekend. That role served them well in the first two games of the season. It could be just what this team needs to get back to playing with the relentless effort Will Muschamp demands. A win this weekend puts the Gamecocks back in solid shape to challenge in the SEC east. A loss, and they may struggle to find enough wins to become bowl eligible.