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September 14, 2012

Five predictions: USC-UAB



South Carolina hosts UAB of Conference USA in a regionally televised affair on Saturday. Here are five predictions for the third meeting between the Gamecocks and Blazers in the last 10 seasons:

1. The run-pass differential will be less than 10: Just like last week's 48-10 romp past East Carolina when the passing offense finally got on track, Steve Spurrier enters the third game of the regular season seeking to achieve a balanced offense. But what does that term mean? Gary Danielson of CBS explained this week that the phrase "balanced offense" isn't necessarily quantitative. Instead, it means an offense's running and passing attacks are close to equal, as far as being a threat. In short, the defense can't predict what's coming on any down. Last week, USC attempted 40 passes and 34 runs against the Pirates. Since the UAB defense is somewhat similar to ECU, Spurrier will probably take the same approach this week. The ECU win marked the fifth time since the start of the 2011 season that USC's differential between run and pass was less than 10. But one thing changed. Last week was the first time the Gamecocks threw more passes than keeping it on the ground. Start of a trend? This week may give some answers.

2. Marcus Lattimore will break the school record for most career touchdowns: Lattimore, who ranks second in the nation in career yards rushing per game (98.4), registered his 33rd career touchdown in 22 games with a 6-yard run through the middle for the first score against ECU. The touchdown was significant because he matched the school record for career rushing TDs held jointly by George Rogers and Harold Green. It was also his 30th career rushing touchdown, which is sixth-highest among active FBS players and the most by a junior. Thirteen of Lattimore's career rushing touchdowns (43.3 percent) have come against non-conference opponents. Lattimore likely won't reach 20 carries in this game, but rest assured, one of them will produce a touchdown.

3. Damiere Byrd will catch his first touchdown pass: The 397 passing yards amassed by USC in the win over ECU last week marked the most for the Gamecocks since that night 17 years ago in Starkville, Miss., when Steve Taneyhill and the USC receivers shredded the Mississippi State offense for 490 yards through the air. Was Spurrier sending a message? Absolutely. It started early with the 53-yard completion to Byrd down the right side in which the sophomore speedster was a step behind the defensive back when he caught the ball. This week, I figure Spurrier will go for the jugular and try to get Byrd his first career touchdown. So far this season, Byrd has three receptions for 94 yards, an average of 31.3 yards per catch. At that rate, I expect T-shirts will soon be printed that exclaim, "Hate Clemson? Flip 'em the Byrd!"

4. The USC defense will hold UAB under 80 yards rushing: Dating to last season's Clemson game, the Gamecocks have held three of their last four opponents under 100 yards rushing. This season, Vanderbilt managed just 62 yards on 36 carries (1.7 yards per carry) in the season opener and East Carolina mustered 70 yards on 24 carries (2.9 yards per carry) last week. Doing the math, USC's first two opponents have gained 132 yards on 60 carries, an average of just 2.2 yards per carry, an indication of how stout USC's defensive front seven has been in the early going. UAB had 134 yards on 44 carries (3 yards per carry) in the loss to Troy on Sept. 1. The Blazers were 84th in the country in rushing offense last season (129.4 ypg), and the struggles haven't gone away after one game of the Garrick McGee Era. Greg Franklin (leading returning rusher with 430 yards in 2011), Darrin Reaves (372 yards in 2011) and Georgia transfer Dontavius Jackson are all serviceable backs, but there is no superstar in the group. Based on the first two games, USC should be able to keep UAB's ground game under wraps.

5. Most fans stay in their seats after halftime: The weather is supposed to be perfect. It's the first night home game of the season. The new high-definition videoboard will show off all its colors. Recruits will be there at the game checking everything out. Thus, there is no reason for Gamecock fans to head home before the final gun. Hey, want to make Spurrier happy? Stay in your seats. I think the excitement of the first prime-time game will keep the stadium rocking until well past halftime. Of course, if the game turns into a blowout, it's only natural for some fans to leave early as a way to beat the traffic. Attrition is always expected, just not on the level we saw last week. It certainly caught Spurrier by surprise (and bothered him as well), which produced his now much-discussed reaction in the post-game press conference.

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