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October 18, 2013

Rush's insider roundtable

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

1. There will be a lot of NFL scouts watching the game Saturday and their focus will be on the matchup of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson. How do you see this matchup playing out?

JOSH LOW: It will be fun to watch. I don't think there will be a clear winner of the two after the game. I think both will win their share of matchups. I also don't think it will be one-on-one the whole game either. I'm sure Tennessee will use the tight end, running back, or the guard to help out Richardson. I do believe this will be the best opportunity Clowney gets this season to make a big impact. He will get chances to go one-on-one with Richardson and it will be interesting to see what happens. I know both have been waiting on this rematch since last year's game and there is no love lost here. I would expect to see some trash talking going on from both players.

RON AIKEN: As he's (Clowney)averaging 2.8 tackles per game and just under half a sack against all manner of tackles and their accomplices, I predict two tackles and half a sack. I'd say it will be fun to watch, but it won't. Watching two and sometimes three players block a single player is good for the rest of the defense, but bad for viewing excitement.

CHRIS CLARK: Last year's matchup between those two was talked about a lot and helped cement Richardson's status as one of the best tackles in the college game. It should be noted that Clowney was not 100 percent during that game and Tennessee put together an excellent plan that included backs and tight ends helping out at times as well. Clowney looked healthy last week against Arkansas and if the same holds true against the Vols this should be another good battle. I expect that Tennessee will take the same approach as everyone else this season and try to stay away from Clowney for the most part. In order to run the offense, however, there are going to likely be times where Tennessee has to leave Richardson on an island against Clowney and those will be the battles that tell the real story. I think both will win their share of the battles on Saturday, but I have a feeling Clowney may make a big play when given the chance.

2. South Carolina receiver Shaq Roland will return this week after being suspended the last three games. What are your expectations for him in his first game back?

JOSH LOW: I honestly don't expect much from Roland Saturday. The reason why is because of Damiere Byrd and Shamier Jeffery. Byrd has been a huge target for the Gamecocks over the last three games because he has gotten those chances. I don't see South Carolina taking playing time away from Byrd during Roland's first game back. Jeffery has been doing well in practice and seemed to take that to the playing field last weekend when he had five catches. I think it will be hard to play three different receivers in one spot. Roland may play a little, but he won't play enough to make a big impact. If Bruce Ellington doesn't play, then this could change.

RON AIKEN: At his presser on Tuesday Spurrier said Roland would play and have some balls thrown his way. He was asked a question about the emergence of Damiere Byrd and Shamier Jeffery in Roland's absence, but used the question to say he hopes some balls go Roland's way, so that should tell you all you need to know about where he and Spurrier stand. He'll have his opportunities Saturday.

CHRIS CLARK: Roland is third on the depth chart and while I expect him to play in some capacity it will be interesting to see how much. Damiere Byrd has really played well in Roland's absence, but Roland is talented and showed it before he took a seat for violating team rules. He will not start, but I expect that he will be in there some and potentially see some balls thrown his way. Just taking a guess, but I don't foresee him having a huge first game back.

3. Who is the biggest threat on the Tennessee offense that could cause some problems for the South Carolina defense Saturday?

JOSH LOW: I have to go with Rajion Neal. He has carried the ball over 20 times the last two games and I think that could be the formula Tennessee uses Saturday. Tennessee's offensive line is obviously one of their strengths and Neal is a powerful runner behind them. Another reason is because South Carolina has been inconsistent tackling. The linebackers and secondary are going to have to tackle well this week to slow Neal down. I could see him having a big day. (Alton) "Pig" Howard is another candidate. He is one of the few playmakers the Tennessee offense has and South Carolina will have to know where he is at all times.

RON AIKEN: Gonna say Antonio Richardson, only because if he's good enough for the Vols not to have to use two and three guys to contain Clowney, that makes the Vols offense that much better -- and believe me, the Vols offense needs all the help it can get, because it is not good.

CHRIS CLARK: While Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane have averaged 5.7 and 6.2 yards per carry from the running back position specifically, the guy that comes to mind for me is receiver Alton "Pig" Howard. He has 10 rushes this season for 75 yards and also 15 catches with a pair of scores through the air. South Carolina showed some vulnerability against Arkansas on the reverse play and that is one way Tennessee could get the ball in Howard's hands. He's a smaller receiver with some athleticism and wiggle and could be tough for USC to tackle in the open field if he gets loose.

4. South Carolina is a little banged up on both sides of the ball after the win over Arkansas. Of the injured players on either side of the ball, who could make the biggest impact on this game?

JOSH LOW: I think it is Ronald Patrick. If he can't go, then that is a big loss. Patrick has had a good season and he has been great in the running game. It isn't ideal to have to turn to a true freshman, if Na'Ty Rodgers is the replacement, in a road game against the defensive tackles that Tennessee has. The Chaz Elder injury is unfortunate for him. I thought he would really take off with the starting position. They need him to be back against Missouri. J.T. Surratt is traveling to Tennessee, but his status is unknown; he would be a huge loss for the defensive line.

RON AIKEN: Gotta be Patrick with the way the offensive line has been playing. To lose a senior is tough, especially one playing so well. However, I have confidence the backups will come in and perform fine, so it won't be as big as it could have been had not the depth been developed so nicely around him.

CHRIS CLARK: I would have to go with senior right guard Ronald Patrick. USC's offensive line is clicking in a big way and Patrick has been a key part of that. He's one of the strongest players on the team and has a good bit of experience now as a senior. Just looking back at USC's first several games this season, Patrick has been relied on heavily in the running game. Whoever ends up replacing him will not have the same level of experience at the position, so it's something to watch for during the game.

5. Connor Shaw and Mike Davis are both having good seasons for the South Carolina offense. Which one do you think deserves more attention nationally?

JOSH LOW: I think you could make an argument for either. They both deserve more attention than they are getting. I would side with Shaw because it seems like he gets no mention even in the SEC. If you see a list of the top five quarterbacks in the SEC, Shaw isn't listed. I don't agree with that. The record Shaw has isn't the only thing that is good about him right now. His stats are very impressive. He is close to completing 70 percent of his passes and hasn't thrown an interception this season. He has turned the ball over three times this season because of fumbles. If you take out the UCF game when he only played in the first series, Shaw is averaging 225 yards passing a game. That number is even better against SEC teams. People have doubted Shaw's performances on the road in the past, but he has delivered in those games as well. He deserves to be mentioned when people like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and A.J. McCarron.

RON AIKEN: Shaw's career wins merit significant attention, but only locally. Davis leading the SEC in rushing merits national attention.

CHRIS CLARK: I would have to go with Connor Shaw simply because he has not received the same level of attention as Davis. One could make the argument that Davis has been undervalued as well given the numbers he has put up and the value he adds to the team, but Shaw is still somehow flying under the radar. This is a guy that from a passing-efficiency standpoint ranks right in between Johnny Manziel and Tajh Boyd and has a great record as a starter yet does not receive even close to the level of attention those two garner. Perhaps if South Carolina can close out the season strong and win a big game or two down the stretch with strong Shaw performances, that recognition will come. I feel certain that Shaw does not care either way as long as his team is winning football games.

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