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September 2, 2011

USC-East Carolina: Key battles

GamecockCentral.com breaks down the key matchups for South Carolina's game against East Carolina. At what position will the game be decided?

Dominique Davis vs. C.C. Whitlock

Davis, the Pirates' quarterback, has no doubt read all about how South Carolina had trouble defending the pass last year, and he can read just like anybody else can about how the Gamecocks' secondary is the walking wounded for this game. Whitlock is a senior and has played in 35 games over the past three seasons, but has never truly locked down his position and been an impact player. Replacing the injured Akeem Auguste for this game, Whitlock will be on point. Not only does he have to try and help shore up a secondary that was rotten against the pass last year, but he has to do it against a quarterback who threw for nearly 4,000 yards last year and loves to work the quick passes and sides of the field. Davis may see the opportunity to pick on Whitlock right away, considering that while Stephon Gilmore had some bad mistakes last year, he's still Stephon Gilmore on the other side of the field. Each cornerback should be playing up to limit the quick passes - whether it's a broken-up pass, interception or tackle, Whitlock has to make the play.

Jordan Davis vs. Melvin Ingram

The Pirates' left tackle, a sophomore, will be trusted with stopping the Gamecocks' pass-rush, heavy on most games and probably heavier for this one. It stands to reason that the Gamecocks, with a depleted secondary, will want to feature their trio of pass-rushers along the line so they can limit what Dominique Davis can do with his arm. Ingram led the team with nine sacks last year and will be going up against Jordan Davis, assuming that Ingram starts at defensive end; if not, he could move inside and all Davis has to do is stop Jadeveon Clowney. Knowing it's a clear advantage and that the Gamecocks may be able to set an early tone, it's a good bet USC will be sending the zoo at Dominique Davis from the opening snap. Jordan Davis will have to be ready for whoever comes at him.

Grant Harner vs. Devin Taylor

Oh, the most intense blitz will come from the blind side? Think again. Harner, another sophomore, will be tasked with trying to stop the tall-and-hefty Taylor, one of the quietest players on the team until he gets on the field. Able to get a sack, disrupt a pass with a pair of knee-scratching arms and provide momentum (see Tennessee, 2010), Taylor is one of the most under-rated players in the SEC. Exploding onto the scene when Cliff Matthews was double-teamed throughout last year, Taylor did well enough to where he could have entered his name into the NFL pool, but chose not to. That probably won't happen again after this year, and a dominating first game could propel him to that goal.

Lance Lewis vs. Stephon Gilmore

The most productive returning (and eligible) receiver, Lewis will line up outside and be charging at a boundary, where Gilmore roams. He's expected to run mostly short routes, cross the middle of the field, and Gilmore has to be on him. The junior cornerback had a good season last year, with solid numbers, but when he messed up, it was often a glaring mistake. Can't happen this year, and Gilmore knows it. He re-committed himself to learning double moves throughout the summer, and vows not to be easily shaken. No doubt that Lewis and his offensive staff have seen the film and how Gilmore covers, and will try to begin eating him up right away. A first-quarter defensive stop could go a long way toward giving USC a cushion.

Bradley Jacobs vs. Marcus Lattimore

The Pirates' leading returning tackler, Jacobs may not see much of Lattimore since he helms the strong safety spot. Then again, he may see quite a bit. It's not secret that the Gamecocks will hand the ball to their workhorse, who is quite prepared to carry 40 times a game if USC needs him to. The Pirates' 3-4 defensive front may have Lattimore bottled up at the line or in the second level, but if he breaks loose, Jacobs will have to get in front of him, track him down, do something to prevent a long run from becoming longer. The good news for Jacobs - if the Pirates' front seven can limit Lattimore, all he has to worry about is the passing game, featuring some joker named Alshon Jeffery.

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