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October 24, 2013

Rush's Roundtable

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

1. Missouri is the big story so far in the SEC starting out 7-0 this season and in the driver's seat in the SEC East. What do you see as the big differences from last year with this team?

JOSH LOW: The biggest thing is they were decimated with injuries last year on the offensive side of the ball. It wasn't just quarterback James Franklin that went through injuries last year. It was the offensive line as well. As South Carolina found out last week, when you lose multiple starters on the offensive line things get tough. That is what happened last year with Missouri. Another factor is the schedule they have played and when they have played certain teams. Their non-conference schedule was the definition of a cupcake. They also got both Florida and Georgia at perfect times with their injury situations. I wouldn't argue with someone if they said their win at Vanderbilt was the most impressive win on their schedule so far.

AVERY WILKS: Missouri's offense is much more potent now than it was a year ago. Struggling behind a patchwork offensive line and a backfield hampered by injuries, the Tigers averaged just 356.4 yards of total offense in 2012. But this season they're up to an SEC second-best 513.4 yards per game, and they're coming off a 36-point outing against a Florida defense that hadn't allowed more than 21 points all season.

RON AIKEN: Confidence. A win at a depleted Georgia and a home victory over a struggling Florida team added to a cupcake early schedule the Tigers should be ashamed of playing (Arkansas St., Idaho, Murray St., Toledo), and the result is that Missouri probably believes it is the No. 5 team in the nation. That's the difference, to me, and it really has everything to do with the schedule. I can't believe the talent is that much different than last year.

CHRIS CLARK: I think a few differences stand out between the two Mizzou squads. For one, Gary Pinkel has to be more focused this season. Personal issues can always stand in the way of job performances and the lack of those likely have him more dialed in this year (Mizzou also has a new OC). The team is a year more experienced, and on both sides of the ball there are several key underclassmen. The Tigers were also hurt by injuries last season which, as we have seen, can have an effect on even the deepest of teams.

2. The Missouri offense has been racking up the yards and points this season. Where are the concerns for the South Carolina defense this week? How do they need to adjust this week?

JOSH LOW: The biggest concern is how the secondary matches up with the size and physical ability of the Missouri receivers. The South Carolina secondary is going to have to make some plays this week. They will be going up against Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington, and Marcus Hunt this week and they are three huge targets for the Tigers. It may be the toughest test they have this season. If they have any blown assignments this week, then it will go for six. I wouldn't be surprised if South Carolina goes with three cornerbacks on the field more this week to help matchup with the spread offense. I also think that South Carolina is going to have to get pressure on Maty Mauk by only rushing four. They need as much help as possible in the secondary.

AVERY WILKS: South Carolina's defense must limit Missouri's short and intermediate passing game to have a chance Saturday. The Gamecock back seven has proven susceptible to dink and dump passes, and some tackling issues have surfaced whenever opposing teams can get the ball to playmakers in open space. The Tigers have plenty of weapons on offense, so South Carolina's secondary and linebackers must stick to their assignments for four quarters.

RON AIKEN: The size of the receivers is a concern, so the key will be pressuring a redshirt freshman making his first big-time start with the country watching. Stop the run, pressure the passer, force a mistake. South Carolina has the SEC's third-best defense, and it's not an accident. Trust what you do, be patient and pressure the Tigers into a mistake early. Missouri hasn't played a close game yet this season -- USC has. Make that an advantage.

CHRIS CLARK: Some of the things Missouri will bring to the table are the things South Carolina has had struggles with this season. The Tigers will spread things out and challenge the perimeter. The Gamecocks will have to cover the short routes and tackle well, and the big and tall receivers for Missouri can make plays down the field as well on fifty-fifty balls. While most think of Missouri as a passing team, this is a team that can run the ball very well too.

3. Dylan Thompson will be getting his first start this season. Do you expect the offense to look different with Thompson under center? What are your expectations for Thompson Saturday night?

JOSH LOW: I think the offense will be similar to what it has been this season. I don't expect many read options for Thompson, but they will still run the ball out of the shotgun. I wouldn't be surprised if they run more I-formation, but I wouldn't bank on it. I do expect Thompson to play well. He has had a week to prepare for this game and knows that it is his game. I think the bigger factor on offense will be how well those around him play. He needs the offensive line to really play well and give him some time against the Missouri pass rush. He needs Mike Davis to play like he has all season. He also needs the receivers to show up and make some plays in this game.

AVERY WILKS: I expect the ball to get out much quicker with Thompson under center, though I'm not sure the offense will be any more productive than with a healthy Connor Shaw at the helm. You've got to like Thompson's chances of dicing up the SEC's third-worst passing defense, but only if he shows early that he won't be rattled in his first SEC start on the road. The Memorial Stadium crowd will understand the importance of Saturday's game, but if the game slows down early for Thompson, I think he'll have a big game.

RON AIKEN: The biggest thing to watch will be to see whether Spurrier calls the game differently. Will he call more runs, knowing he could call more passes with Shaw in the game and wind up getting runs out of it? What will the USC offense look like without Shaw's ability to convert third downs with his feet? Spurrier's offensive game plan needs to be sharp, it needs to keep Missouri off-balance and it needs to eat clock to keep the Tigers offense off the field. I think it has to be a run-first offense from Spurrier.

CHRIS CLARK: I would think Thompson will likely run more I-formation and that the Gamecocks will try to run the ball more with Mike Davis and control the tempo and time of possession to keep Missouri's offense off the field. I would think that if USC can establish the run that a deep shot or two may be in order, but the staff will probably try to take the pressure off Thompson as much as possible.

4. It is always interesting to see how teams react after a big win or ugly loss. How do you believe this team will respond after last week's upset loss at Tennessee?

JOSH LOW: I expect a fired-up team Saturday night. They know this is their last chance to get back into the race in the SEC East and it is a must-win game. I think it is highly unlikely they have any type of letdown in a game like this. I expect a close game Saturday night.

AVERY WILKS: Last week's loss may have been the mid-season wake-up call South Carolina has needed each of the past three seasons. If nothing else, the 180-degree turnaround from the 52-7 win at Arkansas to the 23-21 loss in Knoxville shows how little one game's outcome dictates the next, so I wouldn't be surprised to see an entirely different South Carolina team Saturday. I expect a strong showing from the Gamecocks, but I'm not yet ready to predict them to play four quarters of sound football.

RON AIKEN: I think a humbling might be just what they needed to play hungry, play angry. I think with (Ronald) Patrick back at guard, the O-line is automatically much better, and having your starting safety back (Kadetrix Marcus) and possibly Chaz Elder has to be a huge plus.

CHRIS CLARK: I think USC will be ready to play mentally, especially given that this squad still has a chance to win the East by winning out and getting some help from others. But the game is part mental and part physical. USC's preparation and mental state going into the game is important, but the Gamecocks have to execute on the field Saturday.

5. What must South Carolina do on offense and defense this week to come out of Columbia with a win Saturday night?

JOSH LOW: They have to run the ball, possess the ball, and not turn it over on offense. I think the gameplan needs to be similar to what it was against Clemson last year in the second half. The offense needs to play keep away and they are good at that. I think the defense needs to force some field goals, get off the field on third downs, and force a couple turnovers from Maty Mauk. The secondary has to play well. I will also add that the special teams needs to at least be solid. I don't think Missouri is as good as Tennessee on special teams, but South Carolina can't have careless mistakes on this unit.

AVERY WILKS: On offense, the Gamecocks have to establish the run. Mike Davis has been the lone constant for South Carolina this season, and the coaches will have to recognize that he deserves to be the offense's feature player, not just the feature back. If South Carolina can get the run going early, other options will become available and Thompson won't face nearly as much pressure from the Tiger defense. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has to pressure Maty Mauk. The secondary will have its hands full with three Missouri wideouts - L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckam, and Marcus Lucas - who are each at least 6-foot-4 and have 1,348 receiving yards between them. That leaves it up to the pass rush to limit the time Mauk has to cycle through his options.

RON AIKEN: Offense -- control the ball and clock, wear the Tigers down. Run Mike Davis down their throats. They have not seen a back like him. Make them see more of him than they ever wanted to in their miserable lives, a la Marcus Lattimore's freshman performance against Georgia. Defense -- Stop the running game first, force third-and-long, pressure Maty Mauck into mistakes, rattle his cage and show him what it's like to live a backfield terrorized by No. 7.

CHRIS CLARK: Offensively, USC cannot turn it over and cannot have careless penalties. In the two losses this season, both on the road, USC was plagued by both. If the Gamecocks can run it, control clock, and take care of the ball the team could be successful on offense. Defensively, USC must pressure Missouri's quarterback with the front four and tackle well in space, plus make plays down the field on the ball when it's in the air.

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