Youth runs wild: USC-UCF preview
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What: UCF (0-3) at South Carolina (1-2)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC (80,250)
When: Saturday, noon ET
TV/Radio: ESPNU (Clay Matvick, John Congemi); Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 FM In Columbia (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Langston Moore); Sirius 83/XM 190.
Two teams struggling to gain traction as the 2015 season reaches the second quarter collide Saturday afternoon in Columbia. It's Parents Weekend on campus as the Gamecocks face a must-win situation in their quest to attain bowl eligibility. USC has neve rlost to the Knights, pulling out a 28-25 decision two years ago in Orlando, UCF's only loss that season as they earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. But the current UCF team is three or four levels down from that 12-1 team. UCF returns to Columbia for the first time since 2005 when they were the opponent in Spurrier's debut.
USC OFFENSE v. UCF DEFENSE:
Will Saturday mark the beginning of the Lorenzo Nunez Era at South Carolina? As Steve Spurrier exclaimed Thursday night, if the true freshman excels in his first career start against UCF, "away we go with him as our starter."
Nunez demonstrated the superb running skills that made him a four-star prospect coming out of Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Ga. last weekend in the disturbing loss at Georgia as he led the Gamecocks in rushing. But the bulk of his playing time came after USC fell behind by four touchdowns early in the third quarter.
Saturday, we'll get to see how Nunez performs when the score is 0-0. Spurrier will rely on Pharoh Cooper, Shon Carson, David Williams, Jerell Adams and others on offense to help propel Nunez forward in order to avoid a freshman catastrophe. The HBC also promised Nunez will not be one-dimensional as he will be given an opportunity to take his steps and throw the ball.
Interestingly, true freshman Zack Bailey will be snapping him the ball. Bailey replaced the injured Alan Knott in the second quarter of the Georgia game and played the rest of the contest at center. Now Bailey, a 6-foot-6, 320-pounder from Summerville, gets an opportunity to go the distance. Just like Nunez, Saturday could mark the beginning of the Bailey Era at center for USC as he possesses the size and strength to thrive as an interior offensive lineman in the SEC.
Which receivers will catch passes from Nunez? Cooper, of course, as he looks to rebound from last week when he caught just one pass. Also, look for true freshman D.J. Neal, who has one career reception, to make a major contribution for the first time in his career. With Cooper all but certain to leave for the NFL after this season, Neal has his first opportunity to stake an irrefutable claim to the title of 'Next Great Receiver' for the Gamecocks.
Shon Carson may be a fifth-year senior running back, but he has just one more career start than Nunez does. Brandon Wilds is shelved for this game, per Spurrier, so Carson and David Williams, fighting through a disappointing season after three games, will share the load at running back.
UCF may be winless in three games, but the Knights' defense has held up their end of the bargain. UCF currently ranks 24th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 105.0 yards per game. They have also stopped opponents on third down. In the last two games, Stanford and Furman have combined to convert 10-of-29 third down opportunities (34.5 percent).
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Lorenzo Nunez, RB Shon Carson, WR Pharoh Cooper, WR Terry Googer, LT Brandon Shell, RT Mason Zandi, C Zack Bailey.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Thomas Niles, DT Jamiyus Pittman, MLB Domenic Spencer, CB Shaquill Griffin, FS DRico Johnson.
KEY MATCHUP: USC LT Brandon Shell vs. DE Thomas Niles.
The Roundtable - The staff talks Lorenzo Nunez, #Gamecocks defensive changes and more ($) http://t.co/yUcHKdNLuI pic.twitter.com/dVvrxqS8th- GamecockCentral.com (@GamecockCentral) September 25, 2015
UCF OFFENSE vs. USC DEFENSE:
As young and inexperienced as USC could be at some offensive positions, UCF could be even younger. First, the Knights are one of the youngest teams in the country with just nine seniors overall on the roster.
Then, junior quarterback Justin Holman suffered an injury on the opening drive against Stanford, leaving the QB duties to a pair of freshmen - Bo Schneider and Tyler Harris. Against Furman, Schneider became the first UCF true freshmen to start at quarterback since 2010, completing 7-of-11 passes for 63 yards. Harris replaced him in the second half and was 7-of-17 passing for 35 yards. Both quarterbacks combined for three interceptions, a key to UCF's 16-15 loss to the Paladins.
While USC utilizes a fifth-year senior and redshirt junior at running back, UCF's busiest ball carrier last game was freshman Taj McGowan, who had 15 carries for 44 yards against Furman. Junior Nick Patti ran the Wildcat and led the Knights with 58 yards on 14 carries. UCF is likely to rely on McGowan and Patti again as All-AAC running back William Stanback was dismissed from the team earlier this week for violation of team rules.
After last weekend's debacle at Georgia, the struggling USC defense has made some changes in the lineup. The most notable - and perhaps controversial move - was shifting leading tackler Skai Moore from middle linebacker to Will (weakside) linebacker. Spurrier expressed apprehension over the move on Thursday night, citing Moore's success at Mike. But Ward contended the move "is going to be really good for us."
Statistically, Moore has flourished at Mike, but the coaches apparently were not happy with his calls and communication. Thus, T.J. Holloman gets his first start of the season after making four tackles at UGA. Holloman has 27 career appearances and seven starts, so he has some experience.
Along the defensive line, David Johnson has been promoted to starter ahead of Cedrick Cooper and freshman Shameik Blackshear, one of the crown jewels of the 2015 recruiting class, will have his redshirt taken off now that he has finally recovered from a serious high school injury.
Chris Lammons will miss his third straight game with an injury sustained during the week after the UNC game. Chaz Elder is questionable and freshman Rashad Fenton is suspended for the first half for violation of the athletic department's class attendance policy, leaving the cornerback spot to Al Harris Jr., Rico McWilliams and a cast of others. Jamari Smith and Toure Boyd could see action against UCF.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Bo Schneider, QB Tyler Harris, WR/WC Nick Patti, RB Taj McGowan, RB C.J. Jones, LT Aaron Evans, RT Luke Palmer.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Marquavius Lewis, DT Taylor Stallworth, MLB T.J. Holloman, OLB Skai Moore, SPR T.J. Gurley, FS Isaiah Johnson.
KEY MATCHUP: UCF RB Taj McGowan vs. MLB T.J. Holloman.
SYNOPSIS: Even though they won't be on the field at the same time, the top storyline is the battle between the freshman quarterbacks. With Connor Mitch's future uncertain, Nunez has an opportunity to take firm control of the job. Spurrier hopes his mobility will provide a spark to the sluggish Gamecock offense. UCF possesses one of the worst offenses in the country, but USC has struggled to gain a footing defensively under first-year co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke. As a result, we've seen plenty of changes on that side of the ball. Nunez will ignite USC, but he's still a true freshman. The Connor Shaw Era unofficially opened with a thunderous 54-3 win over Kentucky in 2011 (he started season opener vs. ECU but was replaced by Stephen Garcia) and Nunez's skills are comparable to his. At the moment, USC has too many problems on both sides of the ball to provide an early knock-out blow.
PREDICTION: USC 24, UCF 13
Wes Mitchell's Practice Insider: Coaches switch spotsClick Josh Low's Weekly Football ThoughtsClick Spurrier addresses Nunez, lineup changesClick ALSO SEE: In-depth coverage & insider analysisHere to view this Link.Here to view this Link.Here to view this Link.