Thursday, October 04, 2007

USC/Kentucky Preview

"Here's a health Carolina, forever to thee!"

Ok, remember how I said that the USC/LSU game was the biggest in Carolina history? Ok, change of plans...this is it.

Tonight at Williams Brice, Carolina has another chance to get into the top 10 for the first time since 2001 when they play the #8 Wildcats. Kentucky has been one of the biggest surprises this year, arguably the biggest if you throw out South Florida. Andre Woodson again is on fire, and after making his mark in last year's Music City Bowl against Clemson, doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon. The #2 pass defense in the country will be tested more than it has this entire season, but the thing is that this team can be beaten.

Here are five keys to a Carolina victory:

1.) Contain Andre Woodson: There is no conceivable way to stop Woodson. He has an arm, he's got great vision, and most importantly, he is efficient. But, if the Cocks can hold him to under 250 yards passing, they have a real shot at taking this game. The Cocks have only given up 106 yards a game through the air, but again, they haven't faced a quarterback the likes of Woodson. The pass rush is imperative for USC to do anything to slow the passing offense. Eric Norwood and Casper Brinkley (yes, brother of Jasper...Jasper and Casper...there you go, share a laugh, tell your friends) will be coming off the ends, but especially keep your eye on Norwood. He was a first-team Freshman All-American last year by The Sporting News, and also leads the team in tackles (30), tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3.0).

2.) Contain Rafael Little: I know, I know, a lot of "containing," but when you're going up against a team that scores over 46 points a game, it's a word that will be thrown out a bunch. Little averages over 100 yards a game, and the Gamecocks are giving up over 200 yards a game on the ground. The Brinkley injury will come up time and time again, because that's the main reason why LSU was able to run all over us two weeks ago. Their running game (223.6, 30th) is actually ranked higher than their passing game (268.7, 47th), so that may be a small indication of how effective they have been handing the ball off this year.

3.) Keep The Two-Headed Running Game Going: Mike Davis and Cory Boyd have been great this year, even though their overall numbers do not show it. Boyd has been the bruiser, with Davis being more of a finesse back. Also, Kentucky is equally as bad against the run (203.2, 202th) as the Cocks are. What this means is the ability to control the clock, which is critical in this game. The longer USC keeps the ball, the less time Kentucky's explosive offense will have their chances. The offensive line is improving with every game, and could make a statement with an impressive outing tonight.

4.) The Chris Smelley-Kenny McKinley Connection: Coming into this season, it was hard to imagine anyone being able to step up to the plate to fill Sidney Rice's shoes as the main man in Columbia, but McKinley is doing everything he can to do so. With his 107-yard game last week against Mississippi St., McKinley racked up his second game hitting the century mark, with his first being against Georgia. Carolina fans have been craving Chris Smelley ever since he signed his letter of intent, and the Ol' Ball Coach kept him away from his hometown Crimson Tide. Blake Mitchell simply could not keep up with the ever-evolving offense, and now that Rice is gone to the NFL, he couldn't make it happen with the current receiver make-up. Smelley and McKinley seem to have an understanding about what both expect out of each other. Expect to see this combo hook up at least four or five times tonight, including a couple of deep ball attempts.

5.) Third Down: This is absolutely critical for the Gamecocks. They have been tremendous stopping opponents on third down, coming into the game eighth in the country. Kentucky is fifth at getting third downs. To me, this is the biggest key of the game. Something has got to give here. If the Cocks can force some punts from UK, then they will be able to implement keys #3 and #4, especially #3 and the ability to control the clock. Plus, the Wildcats have been horrible on fourth down (182nd), so if they cannot convert on third down, expect them to really start thinking before they go for it.

As far as what I think will happen, here goes: The crowd will once again be one of the loudest you will ever hear. The garnet and black faithful will be out in full force, and they will be rocking and rolling through the first half, and so will this team. The main thing to be concerned about is the second half is when the fans and the team collectively sober up, and sometimes can lose their enthusiasm. I just want all those going to the game to realize how important this game is to USC and that the idea they may get to that elusive SEC Championship game may still have some life to it...even though after the LSU/Brinkley injury, I kind of wrote that off. Still, a win here will get the Gamecocks into the single digits in the rankings, a place where a lot of people reading this never saw in their entire lifetimes. So, I hope everyone who is in Columbia at the W-B enjoys the game, and for all those watching around the country, get ready for an intense battle. By the way, prediction...take the favorite (USC, W, -3.5).

GO COCKS!!!!!!!!!



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