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October 10, 2013

Rush's insider roundtable

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


1. With everything that has happened this week around Jadeveon Clowney, whether he plays or not, do you think the stuff off the field will have an impact on this team? If he doesn't play, then how much does that impact this defense?

JOSH LOW: I don't see it having any type of impact mentally on the other players. Clowney has been getting attention off the field ever since last season ended. I don't see this week's attention being a big deal to the players. If Clowney can't go on the field, then it is a big impact. He is the best player on the team and it will obviously hurt. Arkansas is going to run the ball and this defensive line needs Clowney in there.

RON AIKEN: I think if it has any impact, it'll be to bring together the players on the field. There's no question that if you can play a Jadeveoon Clowney, you're better off than if you can't but if he can heal against a run-first team and be available for Tennessee and Missouri, that's not such a terrible thing to have happen, because he would be significantly missed against the offenses of those two teams.

CHRIS CLARK: I don't think it will have a noticeable impact on the team from a mental standpoint. Connor Shaw put it well during Tuesday's press conference when he said that outsiders and the media were both making a much bigger deal out of everything than players and coaches were internally. At the end of the day, the team is going to be much more worried about playing assignments and making plays than thinking about Jadeveon Clowney on the field Saturday. There is an on-field impact however, anytime No. 7 is not on the field. He's a player that's probably game-planned for more than any other defensive player in football and is a huge asset not only rushing the passer, but against the run. USC had some struggles against Kentucky last week against certain running plays and Clowney likely would have helped in some of those situations. USC is a better defense when he is out there, no doubt about it. USC can win without him, but obviously the preference is for him to play.


2. Arkansas is 3-3 on the season and has mostly been a running team on offense. How does South Carolina match up against an offense like Arkansas?

JOSH LOW: It is going to be an interesting match up because Arkansas is going to try to establish the run and then go over the top with the play action. The South Carolina linebackers need to grow up fast this week. Arkansas running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are legit guys. Collins has more wiggle and is more a cut-back runner, while Williams likes to run downhill. I think one of the biggest things South Carolina must do this weekend is tackle well. If they take poor angles and miss some tackles like they have done this season, then both running backs could go for over 100 Saturday. Don't sleep on Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen either. The play action will come from this team if they establish the run.

RON AIKEN: On paper, it looks like just what the doctor ordered for a linebacking corps and defensive backfield struggling to cover receivers down field. If you can get those guys lined up right and just let them go sic the ball carrier, an improving defensive line with some stout bodies should be able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

CHRIS CLARK: Arkansas has a very talented freshman running back in Alex Collins. South Carolina's run defense has been solid this season overall, ranking Top 35 nationally in terms of yards per game and USC is allowing around 3.5 yards per carry on the ground. At times, the run defense has been inconsistent for USC and the Gamecocks' freshman linebacker corps will be counted on heavily in this game to make plays once Collins breaks the initial line of defense. I feel confident that Arkansas will have some success running it because that's what the team does best and will try to establish, but the key for USC is to get the Razorbacks into third-and-long situations.


3. Steve Spurrier has promised changes on defense this week. Do you believe there should be changes and where should they be?

JOSH LOW: I do think there should be changes and I believe there will be some. I think it will mostly be in the secondary. I wouldn't be surprised if Chaz Elder and Ahmad Christian are the two players that benefit from the changes. It also sounds like some of the younger cornerbacks like Ronnie Martin and Jamari Smith could get a chance. I don't remember seeing much of T.J. Gurley last week and I think this is a game that he could make an impact. The bottom line is that some of the veterans aren't getting the job done and are sometimes playing selfishly. The message needs to be sent.

RON AIKEN: Oh yes, I do believe they'll stick to that. Grady Brown has said he's willing to try Rico McWilliams and Jamari Smith at corner, and I think there will be no hesitancy to pull someone who under performs regardless of their experience. They likely won't announce those changes until game time, but don't be shocked if there's a surprise starter at corner or safety, though who that is will depend, Brown said, on how those backups practice this week.

CHRIS CLARK: Of course there should be changes, but the question is where? From a personnel standpoint, USC has limitations either with youth and inexperience or talent that really ties the coaching staff's hands with moves it can make. That said, some tweaks still could be made in an effort to eliminate some of the late-game mistakes that have haunted the defense or to send a wake-up call to some other guys. USC needs more production at MIKE, but T.J. Holloman has been a boost there. Vic Hampton is talented and has made some nice plays this year, but has to eliminate the mental mistakes that have allowed big plays. I still think Brison Williams needs to step up. Perhaps we see more of Chaz Elder or some young cornerbacks this week.


4. South Carolina's offense has been consistently good all season. Do you expect that success to continue this weekend on the road in Arkansas?

JOSH LOW: I do expect another good performance from the offense. Mike Davis will have another chance to go for over 100 rushing and I would be a little surprised if he didn't against this defense. Connor Shaw is playing his best football right now and there is no reason to not expect that to continue. I expect the offense to gain a lot of yards and put up some points in Arkansas Saturday.

RON AIKEN: I do, because of the nature of the unit's success. Connor Shaw has been the glue, and his amazing accuracy this season (68.8 percent) has allowed the passing game to open up Mike Davis to lead the SEC in rushing. That formula will continue to work, and it's nice to see that the absence of Shaq Roland hasn't slowed this team down in the least.

CHRIS CLARK: Yes, I do. USC's defense needs to be better because it cannot be expected that the offense can bail that group out each week, but USC has played well every game this season (with the exception of the first half against UCF). Even in a road loss to UGA, the offense moved the ball and scored points but turnovers were costly. The biggest reason for the team's struggles, aside from late defensive breakdowns has been turnovers on offense and special teams so that is precisely what USC must avoid.


5. Though Georgia didn't lose last weekend against Tennessee, the SEC East did get interesting with all of the injuries they have suffered. Discuss the race in the SEC East right now. Is it a legit four-team race? Do you believe South Carolina has a shot? Who is in the driver's seat?

JOSH LOW: I do believe the division is wide open right now. I know Georgia has been surviving games, but I don't see that continuing. If I had to make a prediction right now, I think the winner of the division will probably have two losses and it should end up going down to a tiebreaker. We will find out what Missouri is all about over the next three weeks when they face Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina in a row. If they find a way to get out of that stretch 2-1, then they may be the favorite. I do think South Carolina still has a shot, but I don't think they have much room for failure. They can't lose another SEC East game. If they do, then they can kiss the tiebreaker goodbye. I do believe if they win out in their SEC games, then they will be going to Atlanta. I can't see Georgia not slipping up twice somewhere. If I had to pick a team that is in the driver's seat right now, then it would be Florida. They have the best defense and are also one of the team's that control their own destiny. I do think they will lose at LSU this weekend, but that loss shouldn't hurt them in the race.

RON AIKEN: Georgia remains in the driver's seat. I refuse to project a Georgia loss, even with the injuries, because they've found a way to win, and that builds confidence. If fate were kind to the Gamecocks, they'd be in first place in the division right now because Georgia would have lost to LSU and Tennessee. Until the Bulldogs lose Aaron Murray, it's their title to take once again.

CHRIS CLARK: Georgia's injury situation on offense borders on ridiculous with three of the team's top receivers out and potentially both running backs against Missouri with the news that Todd Gurley remains questionable. Until Missouri loses, they have to be counted in; it's only fair. With the Tigers looking tougher than most thought and some tough games still remaining for UGA with a banged-up squad, the picture may look a little better than it did for USC after Georgia beat LSU and escaped against the Vols. Florida is also out there with a very good defense and South Carolina still has a shot too, but must start first by having a successful three-game road trip. UGA and Florida remain in the driver's seat but South Carolina is the biggest threat, I think.

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