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September 26, 2013

Rush's insider roundtable

In this special feature, Gamecock Central's football insiders answer five questions about the Gamecocks.

1. The UCF offense has put up some really good numbers through three games this season. Do you think they can have that type of success Saturday against South Carolina?

JOSH LOW: I do believe they can have success. This offense is pretty good and they have some legit weapons on that side of the ball. Obviously, the biggest weapon is Blake Bortles at quarterback. He spreads the ball around and gets rid of the ball quick. Running back Storm Johnson is good. He has the ability to run between the tackles and also run away from people in the secondary. It is a very efficient offense that likes to use short, quick passes to make big gains. I think most of the pressure on the South Carolina defense will be on the linebackers to tackle Storm Johnson and on the secondary in the passing game. Those two positions haven't been strong points for South Carolina this season so I do think there is some concern. I think the secondary needs to play physical and press coverage for most of the game. I wouldn't be surprised at all if UCF put up some yards and points Saturday based on what I've watched from South Carolina and UCF.

SCOTT HOOD: No. The USC defense will be by far the best unit UCF has faced this season. Penn State has some athletes, but they're not at the level of the Gamecocks. Granted, UCF has some very talented players on offense starting with QB Blake Bortles. Gee, you think Florida wished they had this guy right now? But FIU is #101 and Akron is #107 nationally in total defense.

RON AIKEN: No. While the South Carolina defense hasn't lived up to its potential yet this season, it is far and away the best defense UCF will have seen or will see the rest of the season. Just like North Carolina, whose offense was more prolific than UCF's, the Knights will find adjusting to the strength and speed of South Carolina a tall, unpleasant task.

CHRIS CLARK: It stands to reason that South Carolina's defense will be the best that Bortles and UCF has faced all season; FIU and Akron are not good football teams and while Penn State's defense may be solid, the Nittany Lions do not have the players that the Gamecocks do on that side of the ball. UCF didn't play as well in the second half on the road in its last game, but still had an impressive performance. They will be back home this week and get the team's best offensive lineman back in left tackle Torrian Wilson. The key for USC is going to be to get pressure on the quarterback and to tackle well on the perimeter. The Gamecock defense needs a boost in the secondary and at linebacker in making less mistakes and being more physical. I don't expect UCF to have the performance it had through the first three games, but I do think that offense can put up some points against the Gamecocks.


2. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been getting a lot of praise this season for UCF. How do you think the South Carolina secondary matches up against Bortles?

JOSH LOW: I mentioned this in the previous question and I really think the cornerbacks need to be more aggressive against the UCF receivers. I would press them all game long and dare them to beat me. I really like Bortles as a quarterback. The thing that impresses me most about him is actually his pocket awareness. He is great in the pocket at avoiding pressure and rarely takes sacks. He does like to get rid of the ball quick and that helps him a lot. I would try to force him to beat me deep.

SCOTT HOOD: Actually, the better question is how the USC secondary matches up with UCF's wide receivers. The Knights have a couple of good ones in J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall. They will give the Gamecock secondary problems, especially if Bortles has time to throw. USC must sustain a consistent pass rush on Bortles. If not, he could have a big day.

RON AIKEN: Bortles is good, there's not doubt. But with the Gamecocks' schedule, that's commonplace. Bryn Renner, Aaron Murray and Austyn Carter-Samuels all are as good or better, so facing a talented QB will be nothing new for a secondary that is improving each week. Bortle's strengh is his accuracy, and before the Penn State game he had a long streak going of attempts without an interception. South Carolina hopes to continue its own streak of games with an interception -- one -- and should do so with a defensive front that could pressure Bortles into mistakes.

CHRIS CLARK: South Carolina secondary coach Grady Brown said that Bortles is as good a quarterback as the defense will face all season, and watching him on film that sounds like an accurate assessment. The Gamecock secondary played much better against Vanderbilt than on the road at Georgia and this will be another tough road test against a good quarterback and capable receivers. Bortles does not turn the ball over often and can carve up defenses with short passes while taking shots, so USC will need to be ready for all of that in the back end. If the group is aggressive in trying to take away short routes and better at safety, I think that group can have a pretty good day but Bortles is a good player and can make you pay if you don't play well.


3. Connor Shaw is coming off one of his best games as a Gamecock against Vanderbilt. Do you expect more of the same that we saw against Vandy or do you think he could take a step back on the road?

JOSH LOW: I think Shaw will have another big game. The biggest weakness on the UCF defense in my opinion is their secondary. There should be a lot of opportunities for Shaw to make big plays down the field in the passing game. I also think he will make a big impact in the running game as well. The zone read should be used a lot in this game and Shaw should have room to run.

SCOTT HOOD: Shaw proved at UGA that he's capable of playing well on the road after last season's struggles at LSU and Florida. The crowd size at UCF will be half the number of people at Sanford Stadium. He shouldn't have any problems dealing with the crowd in Orlando. I expect Shaw will play a very good game against a Knights defense that hasn't been challenged extensively so far in 2013.

RON AIKEN: There's no reason to think he'll take a step back on the road, as he's been consistently good in every game this season, including at Georgia. Shaw looks like a man on a mission this season, and UCF will not be a place he goes and gets nervous. I expect him to perform superbly.

CHRIS CLARK: I do not see Shaw taking any sort of significant step back. Will he play as well as he did at home against Vanderbilt? That's a high bar to set given it was one of his best career games. Shaw is a key in this game because he will be counted on to take care of the ball, probably run some zone read, and stand in the pocket and deliver just as he did against Vanderbilt. Even in Shaw's last road contest, he certainly played well enough to lead his team to a win but the defense was the letdown against Georgia.


4. The UCF offense gets most of the attention, but the defense has been sound as well. Where do you think South Carolina can have the most success against them?

JOSH LOW: Based off what I've watched from UCF so far this season, they like to blitz and it is usually their linebackers that are blitzing. The linebackers are very aggressive for them. If South Carolina can establish the run early with Mike Davis, which I think they will, then they should have some big-play opportunities with the play action. UCF's linebackers will bite a lot on the play action and it will open some things over the top. I think South Carolina's offense will have another big game and will be balanced doing so.

SCOTT HOOD: Doing what they do best -run the football! USC has three straight games of 220+ yards on the ground. Keep pounding away at the UCF defensive front seven with Davis, Wilds and Shaw taking turns doing the damage and USC will eventually wear UCF down by the second half.

RON AIKEN: The offense will find little trouble from the Knights' defense either running or throwing. I see no reason the Gamecocks can't put 40 points on the board, though history suggests that Steve Spurrier likes to get a lead then sit on it, meaning probably USC will hit 30 points and shut the offense down as the defense does the rest.

CHRIS CLARK: Going back to an earlier point, UCF has not played a team that will be as good offensively as South Carolina although the team does have the benefit of playing in its home stadium. Watching the Golden Knights on film defensively, the linebackers play extremely aggressive. I think South Carolina can have success running the zone read and hitting some play-action passes to tight ends and receivers. The key to that will be getting the run game going and I do think with USC's big offensive line, if that group can get to the second level and block that Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds can have a good game. UCF does a good job of disguising coverages in the secondary, so making smart decisions in the passing game will be key.


5. There is going to be a lot of talk this week about UCF being a trap game or a possible upset. What are the chances that South Carolina has a letdown this week?

JOSH LOW: I think one big key for South Carolina this week is to start fast. If they let UCF get an early lead and the crowd gets into the game, then it should be a nailbiter until the very end. UCF hasn't played from behind yet this season and it will be interesting to see how they handle that on Saturday. I don't see USC having a letdown or anything like that. They have had two weeks to hear about this team and how they are coming off a road win over Penn State. They should be ready to play.

SCOTT HOOD: Zero. Spurrier loves coaching in the state of Florida and he will make absolutely certain the Gamecocks are ready to play. USC has won 17 straight regular season non-conference games for a reason.

RON AIKEN: It's always possible, and the ingredients are there -- non-conference game, on the road, packed house, home team psyched for their biggest game of the year -- but I think this team it too sound fundamentally for that to happen, too experienced on offense to let even an early deficit derail their attack.

CHRIS CLARK: There is certainly a chance if USC does not play well. This is not a game that the Gamecocks can expect to go play poorly in and pull out a win, because that would be unlikely. UCF's offense is good enough to make teams pay and USC has still not shown enough consistency on defense to make me think that group can waltz into Orlando and just shut down Bortles and that offense. While the UCF defense is not the most talented unit, they looked well-coached and solid. USC can move the ball, but not having costly turnovers on offense or special teams may be the biggest thing that USC has to accomplish. On paper, this is a game that South Carolina should win but it's a tough game.

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