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September 14, 2012
What: UAB (0-1) at No. 8 South Carolina (2-0)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250), Columbia
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Net (Bob Rathbun, Tim Couch, Elizabeth Moreau); Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 FM in Columbia (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Langston Moore); Gamecock Replay (Andy Demetra, Brad Muller)
The second Conference USA team will visit Williams-Brice Stadium in as many weeks when the rebuilding UAB Blazers come to Columbia for the third time in 10 seasons. The last time UAB traveled to the Palmetto State in 2008, a popular redshirt freshman quarterback named Stephen Garcia helped lead the Gamecocks to a 26-13 victory in the first extensive action of his career.
This time, USC could see the backup quarterback make another start.
Steve Spurrier is looking for his 200th career win as a college coach at the same time as USC is trying for its seventh straight win dating to last season, a streak that would match the second-longest in school history. If the oddsmakers are correct - and they've made USC more than a four-touchdown favorite - Spurrier and his team will achieve their goals.
USC OFFENSE vs. UAB DEFENSE
The human drama of athletic competition. Whoops, it's just the saga surrounding starting quarterback Connor Shaw, who remains limited in practice after suffering a bruised right shoulder in the season-opener at Vanderbilt.
Spurrier declined to specify a starter during his call-in show on Thursday, preferring to wait-and-see, according to him, how Shaw throws the football during Friday's walk-through and then how he feels on Saturday. If he's 100 percent and able to throw pain-free, he will likely be the starter.
Meanwhile, backup Dylan Thompson waits to find out if he'll get the call for the second straight Saturday. The Boiling Springs native made his first career start a week ago in the 48-10 victory over East Carolina and surprised many people by throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
Because Spurrier went into the East Carolina game determined to throw the football, Marcus Lattimore was basically given the afternoon off, rushing just 13 times for 40 yards, his fewest number of carries since the rout over Troy in 2010 (seven carries).
The Gamecocks' junior had a light day last week against East Carolina, as the team's passing attack took center stage in the 48-10 win. But UAB allowed 262 yards on the ground in the opening-game loss to Troy two weeks ago, the Blazers' only game so far this season, and has small defensive tackles compared to the ones USC typically sees in the SEC.
Handing the ball to Lattimore a few more times could be beneficial for the Gamecocks. The most intrigue involving Lattimore is whether he'll break the school record for most career touchdowns. He is tied with Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and Harold Green at 33.
The revamped offensive line looks to pave the way for Lattimore while improving its pass protection. Mike Matulis has officially switched sides as he started last game at left tackle, replacing Brandon Shell, who is now the backup at right tackle. The interior of the line, though, remains solid with center T.J. Johnson serving as the anchor.
UAB's starting defensive tackles weigh 267 and 285 pounds, so Johnson, along with guards A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick, should be able to generate some push inside.
If Thompson starts (the most logical scenario), Spurrier will probably take some early shots down the field as he did against East Carolina. The long pass completion to Damiere Byrd boosted Thompson's confidence and cleared the way for the standard-setting afternoon by the redshirt sophomore.
Eleven different receivers caught at least one pass last week. How many of those will see their names on the stat sheet this week? UAB starts two freshmen in the secondary, so things could get interesting.
Senior wide receiver D.L. Moore and sophomore tight end Buster Anderson had exemplary outings last week. Moore caught two touchdowns for 45 yards, while Anderson had a career-high four receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Their emergence expands the number of options available to whoever is playing quarterback for the Gamecocks.
While other defenders struggle around him, 5-foot-11, 230-pound middle linebacker Marvin Burdette remains a rock for the UAB defense. He continues to move up the school career tackles chart after making 92 stops as a junior in 2011.
Burdette picked up where he left off a year ago and finished the Troy loss with 10 tackles, giving him 259 tackles in his career to rank ninth on the Blazers' all-time list.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QBs Connor Shaw and/or Dylan Thompson, RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, WR D.L. Moore, TE Justice Cunningham, TE Rory Anderson, LT Mike Matulis, C T.J. Johnson
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Diaheem Watkins, DT Connor Boyett, MLB Marvin Burdette, CB Cornelius Richards, CB Lamarcus Farmer
1. USC running back Marcus Lattimore vs. UAB middle linebacker Marvin Burdette
2. USC interior offensive line vs. UAB defensive tackles Connor Boyett and Deric Scott
3. USC wide receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington vs. UAB cornerbacks Cornelius Richards and Lamarcus Farmer
COACH'S COMMENT: "We're still working on it to see if we can become a good passing team. Again, we haven't proven too much yet. We'll find out if we can throw against these guys. Our offensive line needs to play better, blocking-wise and for runs" - USC coach Steve Spurrier
UAB OFFENSE vs. USC DEFENSE
New UAB coach Garrick McGee served as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas for two seasons under Bobby Petrino, so he likes to throw the football with a dash of run mixed in.
Junior quarterback Jonathan Perry threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Troy, McGee's debut as coach, after he made eight starts a year ago when injuries forced the former starter to the sidelines. Perry finished with 2,042 passing yards as he completed 174-of-300 passes with 10 touchdown passes. He also rushed for 294 yards.
UAB had a pair of receivers with more than 100 yards against Troy as Jackie Williams had six receptions for a career-high 157 yards, and Patrick Hearn (25 career starts) caught six balls for 108 yards. Williams has 94 career receptions with 11 starts under his belt.
The third receiver is Nick Adams, a senior with 46 career catches and 16 career starts.
The biggest question facing the UAB passing game is whether Perry will have enough time to throw the ball on Saturday with defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor attacking off the edge.
Even if Perry is able to get the pass off, he'll throw into the teeth of a USC secondary that has played better than expected in the early going, considering the large amount of change from a year ago. East Carolina threw for 333 yards, but that was expected since it runs an "Air Raid" system. The Pirates attempted 47 passes and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, a respectable figure for the Gamecocks' defense.
UAB is far more likely than East Carolina to operate a balanced attack. Two weeks ago, it ran the ball 44 times and threw it 34 times against Troy, a nod to the fact that McGee has described his running backs corps as one of the deepest units on the team.
Junior Greg Franklin is the leading returning rusher for UAB, with 430 yards and two touchdowns last season, while sophomore Darrin Reaves rushed for 372 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year. Reaves led the Blazers in rushing with 48 yards in the loss to Troy. Dontavious Jackson is the third running back.
The USC defense has been the sparkplug for USC's six-game winning streak dating to last season. USC has allowed just 49 points in the last four games. Last week, it forced five turnovers from ECU, including four interceptions.
The Gamecocks have stopped their first two opponents from running the football. Vanderbilt was held to 62 yards rushing in the opener, while ECU had just 70 yards on the ground last week.
Cornerback Jimmy Legree notched the first defensive score of the season with a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, while D.J. Swearinger, Brison Williams and Shaq Wilson also logged interceptions and linebacker Reginald Bowens forced a fumble.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Jonathan Perry, RB Greg Franklin, WR Jackie Williams, WR Patrick Hearn, LT Chris Hubbard
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, CB Jimmy Legree, CB Victor Hampton, FS D.J. Swearinger
1. UAB offensive tackles Chris Hubbard and Kaycee Ike vs. USC defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor
2. UAB wide receivers Jackie Williams and Patrick Hearn vs. USC cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton
3. UAB running backs Greg Franklin and Darrin Reaves vs. USC linebackers Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens
COACH'S COMMENT: "Our players have done a good job and they understand what is at stake. They understand the opposition we are up against and I think they are prepared to really go in and concentrate and believe in themselves and that's the only way you win any kind of game. Our kids did a good job of really concentrating this week and I think they will be ready to go" - UAB coach Garrick McGee
Quarterback - Even (unless Shaw starts, then edge to USC)
Running back - Edge to USC
Wide receiver - Slight edge to USC
Offensive line - Edge to USC
Tight end - Edge to USC
Defensive line - Edge to USC
Linebacker - Edge to USC
Secondary - Edge to USC
Special teams - Edge to UAB
SYNOPSIS: Perhaps no team in the country has a more difficult schedule over the next two weeks than UAB (0-1), which travels to USC and Ohio State on consecutive weekends. The Blazers will play their first road game under McGee. Spurrier is 45-0 against opponents who are not from BCS conferences, so any concerns about the Gamecocks overlooking the Blazers are unfounded. Spurrier forces his teams to take it one game at a time, which is why he's on the doorstep to 200 career wins as a college coach and the Gamecocks have been ranked for 34 straight weeks in the AP Top 25.
PREDICTION: Beyond the identity of the starting quarterback for USC, how bright the new videoboard will look at night and whether the Gamecocks will cover the point spread, this game doesn't contain a lot of drama unless the Gamecocks duplicate what Arkansas did last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe, which is commit a ton of mistakes on both sides of the ball and play lethargically. The Blazers have some talent on the offensive side of the ball, but lack the size in the trenches to give the Gamecocks trouble for 60 minutes. UAB's run defense was shredded by Troy two weeks ago, and Lattimore could do the exact same thing if Spurrier chooses to go that route. UAB is receiving $900,000 for this game from USC, so the first stop on its trip back to Birmingham will surely be the bank. Next week, it will get a similar amount, if not more, from Ohio State. Cha-ching. Enjoy the revenue enhancement, Blazers. Cashing two large checks will undoubtedly soften the blow from what should be a pair of lopsided losses. The Gamecocks enter the seven-game stretch of SEC games with a solid wire-to-wire win.
THE PICK: USC 48, UAB 13
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