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November 8, 2010

Offense Must Cover Defense's Mistakes

South Carolina's passing defense is not good, and it will not magically get better in a week before the biggest game in program history. There is no button to push, no approach that hasn't been tried, no dynamic surgery to get the secondary to where it needs to be.

So the Gamecocks must rise past it the only way they can, which can be summed up in a short phrase.

Whatever they do, we'll do one better.

"They" is the defense. "We" is the offense. Although the offense has not been anywhere close to as fluid as it was in an epic win over Alabama, it can be.

It must be.

"We just had stupid stuff happen," quarterback Stephen Garcia said after Saturday's 41-20 drubbing to Arkansas. "We missed the field goal. We had an offensive pass interference. We had a lot of missed opportunities that we just can't have happen."

With Ryan Mallett on the other side of the field, every missed scoring chance became Arkansas' gain. Mallett passed and passed over USC's tattered secondary, not minding in the least that his top target, Greg Childs, was out with a knee injury, and rang up touchdown after touchdown.

The Gamecocks have the ability to equal that. But with Marcus Lattimore banged up and hesitant when he came back in, half of USC's jab-cross attack was taken away. Alshon Jeffery did what he could, but it wasn't enough.

Both should be ready to go this week. Garcia has the ability to play great games. He has an excellent supporting cast around his two superstars. He might have to be running a bit more this week -- center T.J. Johnson is questionable with a knee sprain, leaving true freshman Ronald Patrick as the starter in the meantime -- but that can help the offense, not hurt it (Garcia rushed for 54 yards on Saturday).

Although Florida's John Brantley has, to put it kindly, struggled this year, he has a good cast around him and the advantage of throwing over the SEC's worst pass D. He and the Gators will get some points.

The Gamecocks must see it, and raise.

"We need to regroup," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We were pretty sad tonight."

USC can score points. With playmakers like Lattimore and Jeffery, the Gamecocks sometimes only need somebody to control the game. This is the same offense that scored 35 points against Alabama and 28 in the first half against Kentucky, but hasn't been the same since.

One reason is Lattimore. For whatever reason, when he's not in the backfield, the Gamecocks don't function well. He went out at Kentucky; USC was punchless and scoreless in the second half. He went out against Arkansas; although he came back in, USC was already too far gone to counter it.

The Gamecocks have been seeking that fluidity on offense since halftime of the Kentucky game. They have staggered through three games, winning two because Garcia got the ball to Jeffery for a back-breaking touchdown in each.

The defense will give up yards, and give up points. The Gamecocks' offense, watching from the sideline, has to harness the mentality now that it will help the ailing defense by matching the Gators point for point.

"I don't need to do any extra motivation this week," captain Patrick DiMarco said.

Get the offense back for one game, help out the defense, and there won't be any motivation needed.

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