GamecockScoop - Preview: Gamecocks face struggling WCU in final 2016 home game
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Preview: Gamecocks face struggling WCU in final 2016 home game

Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks close out the 2016 home schedule on Saturday
Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks close out the 2016 home schedule on Saturday (Gamecock Central)

What: Western Carolina (2-8) at South Carolina (5-5)

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC

When: Sat., Nov. 19, 4 p.m. ET

TV/Radio: SEC Network Alternate Channel (Anish Shroff, Ahmad Brooks); Gamecock IMG Sports Network (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Langston Moore); Sirius 145/XM 191

It’s Senior Day at Williams-Brice Stadium as the Gamecocks wrap up the 2016 home schedule with the first meeting with Western Carolina since 1989. The main storyline all week, of course, has been the Gamecocks’ quest for bowl eligibility. With the Palmetto Bowl looming next week, the Gamecocks want to get the sixth win in the books before traveling to the Upstate.

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA HAS THE BALL

Facing the worst defense in the Southern Conference, Saturday’s game is all about redemption for the Gamecocks offense after a sluggish performance at the Swamp last weekend.

Jake Bentley’s posted respectable numbers (18-33, 213 yards, 1 INT) against Florida, but was harassed all afternoon long by Florida’s dominant defensive front, enduring five sacks and seven QB pressures. While most people placed all the blame on the offensive line, Muschamp did not, claiming the freshman QB held onto the ball too long in some situations. But Bentley gained valuable experience and should be a smarter and more decisive quarterback the next time the Gamecocks play on the road.

Being Senior Day, a key question is whether Perry Orth will see action in his final home game for the Gamecocks. Muschamp has made no promises, but look for Orth to get at least a few snaps on Saturday. The last time we saw Orth, he was completing 26-of-36 passes for 288 yards and 1 INT against Georgia.

Freshman EB Rico Dowdle averaged 121.0 rushing yards per game against UMass, Tennessee and Missouri, but he ran headlong into a stone wall last Saturday in Gainesville against the Florida defense, finishing with just 18 yards on nine carries. Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner missed the game with an injury, but should return against the Catamounts. After gaining 113 yards against Texas A&M, Turner has been quiet in the past five games, totaling just 66 rushing yards on 24 carries, an average of 2.75 yards per attempt.

Along with the offensive line, no offensive position group eyes redemption more than the Gamecock receivers. They dropped about a half dozen passes in the Swamp, some of which could have gone for big yardage. Tight end Hayden Hurst still leads the Gamecocks in receptions with 38 as he has already surpassed Jared Cook’s previous single season record of 37 reception by a tight end. Hurst needs 85 yards to eclipse Cook’s season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Hurst is striving to become the first tight end in 34 years to lead the Gamecocks in receptions.

No position group has faced more criticism since the season began than the offensive line, which was USC’s most experienced unit on that side of the ball. However, we’re still waiting for that dominant performance. Clearly, they were dominated from beginning to end by the Gators. Although experienced, the WCU defensive front weighs 240, 285, 295 and 245 across the line of scrimmage. They are allowing 5.7 yards per rushing attempt, so stopping the run has been challenging.

Despite several returning starters, WCU’s defense has been atrocious, ranking last in the Southern Conference in three of the four major categories – total defense (515.7 ypg), scoring defense (35.2 ppg) and rushing defense (297.8). They also rank last in pass defense efficiency (156.1), sacks (9 in 10 games), first downs allowed (25.4 per game) and third down conversion percentage defense (53.0 pct.).

Things got so bad for the WCU defense that head coach Mark Speir fired first-year defensive coordinator Dustin Landry three weeks ago.

Freshman QB Jake Bentley should find things more to his liking on Saturday
Freshman QB Jake Bentley should find things more to his liking on Saturday (Gamecock Central)

WHEN WESTERN CAROLINA HAS THE BALL

If you paid close attention to the Missouri offense two weekends ago, you should notice many similarities with Western Carolina. The Catamounts run the same quick tempo offense.

The Western Carolina offense deserves only a fraction of the blame for the 2-8 record. The Catamounts are averaging nearly 390 yards of total offense per game and averaging 23.4 points. Biggest problem? Turnovers. Western Carolina has committed 20 in 10 games, tying them with Furman for the most in the Southern Conference. Three of the turnovers have come in the red zone.

Last weekend, the Catamounts accumulated 443 yards of total offense in 49-21 loss at Furman as redshirt freshman quarterback Tyrie Adams was 19-of-27 passing for 295 yards and one touchdown. However, his production was wasted as the defense surrendered 619 yards, including 318 on the ground to Furman.

The Catamounts offense revolves around four players: Adams (2,437 passing yards), running back Detrez Newsome (916 rushing yards) and wide receivers Terryon Robinson (70 receptions) and Spearman Robinson (45).

Adams was named the Southern Conference Player of the Month for September. Newsome, the SoCon Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, is aiming for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has twice rushed for 100+ yards against SEC competition in 2015 with 128 at Tennessee and 111 at Texas A&M.

Newsome also serves as WCU’s kick returner and he leads the FCS in all-purpose yards with 197.8 per game. Earlier this season he set a school record with 347 all-purpose yards against Chattanooga, a FCS playoff caliber team. Newsome has a 13-game streak of 100-plus all-purpose yards.

Spearman Robinson is coming off a 10-reception performance against Furman. The two Robinsons at receiver have combined for 320 career catches. In terms of run-pass ratio, WCU runs a perfectly balanced offense – the Catamounts have run the ball 328 times and thrown it 331 times.

The Gamecocks defense was plagued by poor tackling last Saturday in the Swamp, but the overall has seen improvement in most categories across the board following two miserable seasons in 2014 and 2015.

Darius English leads the Gamecocks with 8.0 sacks and he could enjoy a productive day against a Western Carolina offensive line surrendering almost 3.0 sacks per game (29 in 10 games), most in the Southern Conference.

SYNOPSIS: With last year’s loss to The Citadel still fresh in their minds, many Gamecock fans are likely agonizing about Saturday’s matchup with one of the worst teams in the Southern Conference. However, the circumstances surrounding the two games are entirely different. Last year, the Gamecocks had suffered through a miserable season plagued by the flood and Steve Spurrier’s resignation. When The Citadel game arrived, the Gamecocks were 3-7 and just looking to get the season over with. And they took the FCS team too lightly. This year, the Gamecocks have everything to play for, most importantly bowl eligibility. Frankly, if they lose to a FCS team allowing more than 500 yards per game on defense, the Gamecocks don’t deserve to go to a bowl game. But they won’t. Many of the players on the current roster, including the starting quarterback and running back, weren’t even on the last season’s team. Gamecocks go out, take care of business in front of the home fans and whip the Catamounts (0-51 all-time vs. FBS teams), earning the coveted sixth win.

PREDICTION: Gamecocks 45, Western Carolina 13