Week 13: Clemson

Here we are at the end of the season again. I must say that I'm feeling better at this point of the year than I was last year after witnessing the loss to the Citadel in person, but I'm still not nearly as enthused as I was 3 years ago preparing to witness the Gamecocks' 5th win in a row over the team up north. Overall I'm thrilled with the direction the program is heading under Muschamp, but it's beyond obvious that this team has a long way to go to competing with Top 25 teams and getting 10+ wins a season.

The Gamecocks will have to play a perfect game to beat Clemson this year. While SC has a lot of young talent performing at a high level, but Clemson has some of the best talent in the country at the offensive skill positions and the best d-line the Gamecocks have faced all year. Despite that, I can't understand the point spread of 25.5. The Gamecocks haven't won or lost a game by more than 2 TDs all year. They have a surprisingly good defense that is in the top 10 in turnovers if I'm not mistaken, and have been great in the red-zone this year. Clemson on the other hand is turning the ball over a lot, with Deshaun Watson having thrown 13 picks (good enough for 2nd in the country). A lot of those turnovers have occurred in the red-zone. I'm expecting the Gamecocks to win the turnover battle, but I think they'll need to do so by 3 or more to keep this game competitive. Clemson hasn't played well at home and has everything to lose, while the Gamecocks haven't played well away and have nothing to lose. Clemson could certainly come out playing tight and struggle against an aggressive Gamecock team, but the talent and depth for Clemson will let them pull away from a close game late.

Prediction: USC 17 - Clemson 31

USC 44 - Western Carolina 31: Thoughts on Win #6

Defense Optional

The offense had it's best game of the season while the defense had it's worst, but at the end of the day the Gamecocks became bowl eligible with their 6th win. The 422 rushing yards were the most the Gamecocks have had in over 25 years, which can't hurt the confidence of the o-line heading into the final game of the regular season. Special teams remain horrible, and the defense gave up 24 points to a bad FCS team. I'm hoping that this is a better result than blowing Western Carolina out would have been, as it will at least prevent overconfidence and give the coaches some coaching material this week.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Deebo Samuel - 4 Wings

Scored 3 TDs, 2 rushing and 1 on an awesome 100-yard kick return. Deebo is finally healthy and showing that he is an elite player in the SEC.

Rico Dowdle - 3 Wings

2 TDs and 226-yards rushing on 21 carries. This guy will be awesome next year after a full year in the weight room.

Jake Bentley - 1 Wing

Hayden Hurst - 1 Wing

Became the single-season reception record holder for a tight-end.

A.J. Turner - 1 Wing

Had a good day running the ball and was just 3 yards short of 100.

D.J. Smith - 1 Wing

Recovered a fumble.

Taylor Stallworth - 1 Wing

Had two big time stops on the goal-line stand late in the first half.

Week 12: Western Carolina

This one should be pretty straightforward. The only thing standing between the Gamecocks and bowl eligibility is a 2-8 FCS team. It was exactly one year ago that the Gamecocks lost at home to the Citadel, though, so I'm sure the players, especially the seniors, realize that nothing is a given. Unlike last year's team, this year's unit has everything to play for and a core of young talent trying to prove something. I think the Gamecocks have a big game on offense and will get Perry Orth some snaps in the final quarters. SC should have a lot of success on the ground and punch their ticket to the postseason by halftime.

Prediction: USC 42 - Western Carolina 7

Week 11: Florida

Jake Bentley has been incredible so far in his first three games of action, but every snap he's taken has been within the friendly confines of Williams-Brice stadium. I'm sure he'll make some mistakes in his first road start, but I'd also rather have our QB situation right now than Florida's. Austin Appleby will start for Florida due to injury to Luke Del Rio, which may end up being an addition by subtraction for them. Their (excellent) defense is also missing key contributors this week, particularly at linebacker. South Carolina will need to run the ball successfully to win this game, and the key match-up is the Gamecock O-line vs the Florida D-line. The Florida unit is without a doubt the best unit we've faced this year. I think South Carolina struggles on offense, but makes just enough plays to squeak out a win in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: USC 17 - Florida 13

USC 31 - Missouri 21: Thought on Win #5

The Mayor's Cup back where it belongs

The one had the makings of a trap game. Coming off the big win over Tennessee the Gamecocks could have easily come in unprepared for the worst team in the SEC. Good thing the coaches made them realize that they're not too far ahead of the tigers in the SEC hierarchy. This was also a big win for the Gamecocks, despite Missouri's bottom-dweller status. With the win the Gamecocks will at least have 3 SEC wins in 2016, and are almost assured of becoming bowl eligible. The Gamecocks now haven't trailed in the last 12 quarters of football; recruits and talking heads are taking notice.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Jake Bentley - 2 Wings

Has been getting a lot of press and has deserved every bit of it. The  Gamecocks are likely only have 3 wins (maybe even 2....) without Jake Bentley taking snaps. Completed 79% of his pass attempts for 254 yards and 2 TDs. Getting better every week.

Deebo Samuel - 2 Wings

Deebo had one of the best games by a Gamecock receiver I think I've seen since Pharoh Cooper against Tennessee in 2014. This guy caught everything (almost, the one target that he dropped was on a screen play that would have been a sure TD). Had 9 receptions for 125 yards and rushed for a TD on a fly sweep. Almost every one of his receptions was a contested ball. Now that he's healthy Deebo is showing what had the coaches so excited in the off-season, catching at least 8 reception in each of the last 3 games.

Rico Dowdle - 2 Wings

Took control of the game in the 2nd half on his way to 149 yards and a score. Also had a highlight reel catch off the shoulder of a Mizzou linebacker for a TD. 

K.C. Crosby - 1 Wing

Caught 2 TD passes despite only being credited for 1. Has now caught a TD pass in 3 straight games.

Elliott Fry - 1 Wing

Marked his place in Gamecock football history by becoming the all-time leading scorer. Will be getting his name put up in Williams-Brice along with the other greats.

Taylor Stallworth - 1 Wing

Knocked down 2 passes in the 4th quarter to help keep Missouri from scoring late.

Steven Montac - 1 Wing

Has been Mr. Versatility this year, playing all over the secondary. Forced a fumble early in the game to set-up the Gamecocks' first score.

Chris Moody - 1 Wing

I'm really glad this guy came back to play this year. He's added crucial depth to a ridiculously thin secondary, which has been made even thinner recently by frequent ejections. Led the team in tackles with 11 and sealed the game with his pick in the end zone late in the 4th quarter.

Rashad Fenton - 1 Wing

Likely saved a score with his interception in the 3rd quarter. Also had a perfect defense of a screen pass in the 4th.

As always, you can re-watch the game below:

South Carolina, 2016 SEC East Champions???

After the Gamecocks' upset victory over Tennessee 2 weeks ago, it became apparent that there remained a narrow path open for the Gamecocks to win the SEC's Eastern division. For this to happen, 3 key results would be needed on November 5th:

  • South Carolina beats Missouri
  • Georgia wins @ Kentucky
  • Florida loses @ Arkansas

All of this stuff happened. So now only 4 more specific results need to occur over the next few weeks for the Gamecocks to make it to Atlanta. The following scenario produces 4 teams with 4-4 records in the SEC. By my reckoning only 2 teams have ever made it to the SECCG with more than 2 conference losses: LSU in 2001 (5-3) and South Carolina in 2010 (5-3). Given the unprecedented level of putridity in the SEC East, this could the year to break records.

The Contenders

Florida

Could have made a big move towards punching their ticket to Atlanta this past weekend, but instead choose to get blown out by a team near the bottom of the SEC West standings. For South Carolina to win the East, Florida would need to:

  • Lose to South Carolina this weekend, obviously (50%)
  • Lose @ LSU in 2 weeks (80%)

This would put Florida at 4-2 in the East, with losses to Tennessee and SC.

Kentucky

With only one conference game left this season Kentucky would have put themselves in great position to win the East with a 5-3 conference record with a win over Georgia last week. For South Carolina to win the East, Kentucky would need to:

  • Lose @ Tennessee this weekend (70%)

Kentucky would then be 3-3 in the East, with losses to Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Tennessee

These guys are currently 2-3 in the SEC with 3 games remaining. For South Carolina to win the East, Tennessee would need to:

  • Beat Kentucky this weekend (70%)
  • Lose to Missouri in 2 weeks (0.1%) or @ Vanderbilt in 3 weeks (30%)

This would give Tennessee no better than a 4-2 record in the East, with losses to South Carolina and Missouri / Vanderbilt.

South Carolina

With one game remaining in their conference schedule, the Gamecocks need to:

  • Beat the Gators (50%)

The Gamecocks would then have a 4-2 record in the East with losses against Kentucky and Georgia.

Under this scenario Kentucky would be eliminated first as they have 3 losses within the division. Florida would then be eliminated as they would have 2 losses against the remaining 3 teams. South Carolina would then head to Atlanta by virtue of their head-to-head victory over Tennessee. Stranger things have happened. The key game in this scenario is Tennessee's match-up at Vanderbilt. This is one that Tennessee should win, but Vanderbilt is a tough out for everyone. Only one of their losses this year has been by more than 7 points (@ Georgia Tech). They gave Auburn all they wanted last weekend, and have a much better chance than Missouri at pulling off the upset.

Now, there is a question as to whether South Carolina going to Atlanta (to in all likelihood be absolutely dismantled by Alabama) is a desirable thing. The answer is a most definite yes. We haven't made it there enough to be choosy about when we go. At the beginning of each season every team sets goals, and at the top of every team's list is the goal of winning their division. Muschamp achieving one the top goals in his first year would be a major statement, much like Spurrier's team winning the East in 2010 was. Also, every team has a chance to win when they put the pads on, regardless of whether the opponent is Alabama or not. The Gamecocks making it to Atlanta this season is highly unlikely, but they can take care of what's in their control by beating Florida this week.

 

Week 10: Missouri

It's easy to get excited about a big win and then start overestimating a team's abilities. I do that just about every time the Gamecocks get a win and look decent enough doing it. I just hope this doesn't happen to the players this week. Given how bad Missouri has looked this year, it'd be easy to think they could coast to bowl eligibility after the dominance shown last week. I think the coaching staff will have the guys focused and ready to play, though, as Muschamp stated on his calling show that they had the best Thursday practice ever this week. What's at stake this week is readily apparent: win and it's nearly a given that we'll get a bowl game. Those 15 practices are crucial given the youth on the team.

The game plan should be as obvious as what's at stake: run the ball. Missouri is absolutely horrible against the run. On offense they try to snap the ball as quickly as they can, so if we can get stops and run the ball effectively, we will dominate the time of possession and wear the Missouri defense out. I think the Gamecocks will do it. Rico Dowdle and at least one other RB will have a big day, Bentley will make some throws when needed, and the defense will force more than two turnovers. The Gamecocks win this one by a lot.

Prediction: USC 35 - Missouri 17

See Missouri's last SEC win below:

USC 24 - Tennessee 21: Thoughts on Win #4

Long Live the King

I'll say it again: that was a lot of fun. One of the things I like to do during the off-season is re-watch some of the best games from the previous season(s). During those dark football-less days over the years I've probably watched the 2012 Georgia game and 2010 Alabama at least a dozen times each. Make it about two dozen for the 2013 Clemson game. 2014 only provided one game for repeated viewing, the 38-35 win over Georgia. There was absolutely nothing worth watching again from 2015, and as a result I had a hard time getting excited for this season. As I type this I'm watching last week's game for the 3rd time, so I think I'll have at least one go-to game this summer.

It's amazing how one game can completely change the narrative of a season. Before last Saturday South Carolina was years away from being competitive again, if ever, with a coach retread facing an impossible task. Just ask John Adams in Knoxville. Tennessee was a team returning to it's rightful glory, destined to recover from two tough losses against top-10 competition and win the East. After Saturday Will Muschamp and the Cocks were ascendant while Tennessee was in a tail-spin, their best player quitting the team and Butch Jones' seat getting warm. They entered the game ranked, and now they just smell that way. As you'd expect, I have no problem whatsoever with this turn of events.

This game wasn't as close as the score would suggest. At no point did Tennessee have a lead in the game, and needed a no-call for holding on a kick-off return for a TD to keep from losing by double-digits. The offense looked like a completely different unit. In his first SEC start Jake Bentley totally outperformed the star senior QB on the other sideline, and got major contributions from Deebo Samuel (sophomore), Rico Dowdle (true freshman), and Bryan Edwards (true freshman). The future looks bright on offense.

The most encouraging thing about the way the Gamecocks are playing is that they're getting better week by week, especially on defense. The defense has been terrible the past few years, turning the best offensive output in school history to a 7-6 season in 2014, and being the major driver of 3-9 last year. The final ranking among SEC defenses was 13th and 14th in those years, respectively. After 8 games, the Gamecocks currently rank 6th in the SEC in both Total Defense and Scoring Defense, and rank 46th/26th in FBS. They are one of only 6 teams that haven't given up more than 30 points in a game so far. SC is doing this with basically the same players (minus Skai Moore) they had last year. It's obvious that this staff can coach. The Gamecocks lost Antoine Wilder and Chris Lammons in the first quarter, and then D.J. Smith in 4th against Tennessee. They didn't even have enough defensive backs left to man a dime package late in the game and had to use T.J. Holloman as the 6th DB. They were still able to contain Tennessee in the final minutes and keep them from getting the winning score. The turnaround by the defense is one of the most impressive coaching performances I've ever witnessed.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Jake Bentley - 3 Wings

Not your ordinary high school senior. Getting a lot of hype after only two games and by beating Tennessee as a freshman is garnering some comparisons to Taneyhill. Will probably have some tough games ahead where his lack of experience hurts, but is currently on the path to becoming a legend.

Jamarcus King - 2 Wings

Had two devastating interceptions that were critical for the win and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. This guy is really coming on strong in the back-half of the season and making a strong case for a spot on some All-SEC teams.

Rico Dowdle - 2 Wings

Hit Darrin Kirkland Jr. with the 'two-piece' according to Mark Jones on his way to his first career 100-yard game. Scored the game's first TD and racked up 127 yards on 27 carries. This guy is going to need a nick-name. I've heard 'Uncle' Rico and Rico 'Suave.' I'm a bit partial to the latter, because I guess I have some fond memories of 3rd grade.

Jonathan Walton - 1 Wing

Had a total of 2 TFL with a huge sack for a  drive-killing loss.

Dante Sawyer - 1 Wing

Didn't light up the stat sheet but has been a beast on the line the last few games. Every time I notice this guy he's giving maximum effort and affecting the game.

Deebo Samuel - 1 Wing

83 yards on 8 receptions, most of which were contested. If this guy can stay healthy he has a chance to be a star in this conference.

Bryan Edwards - 1 Wing

Linked up with Bentley for a cool TD on an RPO. Also had a key reception late in the game to help salt the clock away.

K.C. Crosby - 1 Wing

Great 35-yard TD reception, and even better dance moves.

Bonus Wing

Oops, looks like the wing place messed up and delivered a baker's dozen. I'm going to give this one to Will Muschamp for his first big win in garnet and black. According to some national media he was able to become a good coach overnight. This got written this week, and this, and this too. I'm really happy for Coach Muschamp, who has taken a ton of heat this year just for existing in his current role, and is now well on his way to proving the talking heads wrong. Great job, Coach, and thanks for the win.

For your viewing pleasure, the full game can be seen below:

Big Win for the Gamecocks

I'll put some more thoughts up later in the week, but just wanted to put a short post up to say what a great game it was for SC today. I haven't enjoyed a Sunday morning this much since we beat Georgia in 2014. This win went a long way towards removing some (not all) of the sting from the 2013 game. We had a lot of recruits in the house and are competing with Tennessee for a few guys this year, so this win could only help making a strong 2017 class stronger. It was a great day to be a Gamecock.

Week 9: Tennessee

Never has a team deserved to lose to a mediocre South Carolina squad more than this year's Tennessee team. Butch Jones is allegedly a major dirt-bag, they wear orange, and, most importantly, they've won 3 in a row in the series. The 2013 game in particular was a tough one, as the Gamecocks would have won the East if Marquez North hadn't caught that long pass in the waning minutes. This year's team is dealing with a lot of injuries, particularly to Alvin Kamara, who's leading the team in rushing. I think Tennessee still has the edge in talent despite the injuries, though. They're just further along in rebuilding their program than SC is right now, and they've got one of the most experienced and dynamic players in the SEC under center in Josh Dobbs. Dobbs has absolutely killed the Gamecocks in recent years, and defense's record against mobile QBs is not very stellar. I think the Gamecocks stay in this game and keep it close, but they're a few playmakers away from coming up with the win in this one. I sure hope I'm wrong though.

Predition: USC 17 - Tennessee 24

USC 34 - UMass 28: Thoughts on Win #3

We may have just found a quarterback

Jake Bentley appears to be as good as advertised. That's not to say he was perfect, but for being only the 2nd QB ever in college football to start as a freshman after leaving high school a year early I can definitely say he exceeded my expectations. He gave us the deep threat we've been missing all year, and this opened up the run game for our most successful day on the ground all year. The fact that the opponent was UMass has to be kept in mind, so as not to get too excited, but Bentley definitely appeared to be the spark on offense we've been missing. In the first 6 games we never scored more than 2 TDs, but we scored 5 on Saturday.

Oh, and special teams.......not very special.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Jake Bentley - 3 Wings

David Williams - 1 Wing

Ran for 2 TDs to go with 69 yards on 15 carries. Had a big run of 33 yards early in the game that helped set-up a score.

K.C. Crosby - 1 Wing

Had an amazing catch on Bentley's first TD pass.

Bryan Edwards - 1 Wing

Recipient of Bentley's 2nd TD pass.

Rico Dowdle - 1 Wing

Led the team in rushing with 87 yards and had a TD.

Deebo Samuel - 1 Wing

Led the team in receiving with 105 yards. Had a big 47 yard play that set-up a score.

Bryson Allen-Williams - 1 Wing

Had 9 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 TFLs. Great defensive performance.

T.J Holloman - 1 Wing

6 tackles, a pass defended and pass broken up to go along with a pick off a tipped ball.

Chris Lammons - 1 Wing

Had an interception late in the game

D.J. Smith - 1 Wing

Led the team in tackles with 12, 10 of which were solo.

Week 8: UMass

The most interesting story heading into this game is whether or not Jake Bentley will get his first action as a Gamecock. All signs are that he will. I'm not sure if a guy who should be in the middle of his final high school season has ever started a game at QB in FBS football, much less in the SEC. My guess is that this is somewhat unprecedented. As a coach's son he's got a high football IQ like Connor Shaw, but with 6'4" height and a cannon for an arm. He's also apparently extremely athletic, as he put up the highest SPARQ scores among QBs on the camp circuit prior to his enrollment. Jake Bentley is without a doubt the best QB recruit the Gamecocks have ever brought in, and when he committed I think everyone agreed that he was the future of the program. That future looks to be beginning sooner than most would like, but I think Bentley will give the FBS's worst offense the spark it needs as the Gamecocks chase 4 more wins over the next 6 games.

Prediction: USC 24 - UMass 6

Week 6: Georgia

Before the season began I said I thought the Gamecocks would win one this year that they shouldn't and lose one they shouldn't. Assuming that the Kentucky loss was the one they shouldn't have taken, the Gamecocks are then due for an upset. All week I had been pretty sure I was going to pick the Gamecocks to beat Georgia. That was back when this game was going to be played in front of a packed Williams-Brice on Saturday night. The Billy Brice has been a nightmare for Georgia in recent years, as Todd Gurley can attest. The last time Georgia won a game in Columbia was 2008. Now that this year's game is being played at 2:30 on Sunday at a likely half-full stadium in a state recovering from a severe hurricane, the home field advantage that the Gamecocks can usually count on will be greatly diminished. This makes what I expect to be a close game harder to pick confidently in favor of Carolina.

I'm going to pick the Gamecocks anyway, though. We'll get Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards back this week, and with Perry Orth likely to start I think the Gamecocks will try to challenge Georgia's relatively average (compared to other SEC teams) secondary early and often. This will open things up for Rico Dowdle to find some success in the run game and hopefully give SC a chance to control the pace of the game more than they have so far this season. The struggling O-line will also play better against Georgia's smaller front seven. Overall I think this will be a much better match-up for the offense than we've seen the last two weeks and I think SC finally gets more than one TD against an SEC opponent.

Defensively the Gamecocks have been playing very well. We're currently 6th in the SEC and 23rd in the country in scoring defense. Considering how much they've been on the field due to poor offense, that is quite an achievement. They've also been showing improvement week-to-week on that side of the ball, and I expect that to continue. Georgia obviously has Nick Chubb in the back-field, but the Georgia OL has been struggling to open holes consistently. Georgia is going to have success running the ball, especially late in the game, but I think the defense makes enough plays to keep them out of the end zone just enough to win a close one.

Prediction: USC 20 - Georgia 17

Week 5: Texas A&M

Texas A&M is 4-0 and the Gamecocks are.......not. Texas A&M has wins against UCLA, Auburn, and a good Arkansas team. They come into this week ranked #9 in the nation and have looked the part. What has held the Aggies back in recent years, a porous defense, has been greatly improved by former LSU coordinator John Chavis. This is a game we were competitive in last year but lost 28-35. This year A&M is a much more complete team and totally outclass the Gamecocks at offensive skill positions and defensive end. Considering the difficulties the SC O-line has had with the conference's more inferior defensive lines, I'm expecting Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall to have a good day. This will obviously give the Gamecocks some difficulty in moving the ball, but the biggest issues will be provided by the Gamecocks themselves. Injuries have absolutely decimated an already inexperienced receiving core. Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards are dealing with hamstring issues and are questionable for the game, while Randrecous Davis is definitely out with his on hamstring problems. Given the lack of a receiving threat the Aggies will stack the box and eliminate the remnants of an already non-existent rushing attack. The Gamecocks will play tough on defense, will will give up points as they'll will be on the field most of the game.

This is a game I marked down as a loss in the preseason and everything I have seen so far has reinforced that opinion. We simply don't have the talent to compete with a good SEC West team this year.

Prediction: USC 13 - Texas A&M 28

Check out last year's match-up below:

USC 20 - East Carolina 15: Thoughts on Win #2

An Ugly Win is Still a Win, v2.0

I wasn't able to get my thoughts on the East Carolina game up last week as I was traveling until late Saturday night. I'm not going to say much about this one other than it's great to get the win. This is especially evident after the egg laid last week at Kentucky. Wins are going to be hard to come by this year, and this one will be one of the few.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Chris Lammons - 4 Wings

After a terrible outing against Mississippi State and getting called out by Muschamp, Lammons responded with one of the best statistical performances for a cornerback I can remember. 8 total tackles (6 solo), 2 TFLs, a sack with a forced fumble, and an end-zone interception. We don't win the game without Lammons' performance.

Brandon McIlwain - 2 Wings

McIlwain gave the Gamecocks their first multi-touchdown game to date with his 2 rushing TDs in the 1st Quarter.

Jamarcus King - 2 Wings

Had 6 tackles and an amazing end-zone interception.

Antoine Wilder - 1 Wing

In his first ever significant action at safety forced a fumble near the goal line preventing the Pirates from getting the winning score.

David Williams - 1 Wing

Had arguably his best day ever in garnet and black by leading the team in rushing and getting 9.6 yards / carry. Also had a reception for 16 yards.

Bryan Edwards - 1 Wing

Led the team both catches and receiving. Had a huge play on the 2nd series 

D.J. Wonnum - 1 Wing

The true freshman had 2 TFLs and a sack.

Check out the full game below:

Week 4: Kentucky

It's Kentucky week again, which during the year 2000-2013 used to be the same as 'Guaranteed SEC Win Week.' Recently times have changed a bit, as Kentucky brings a 2-game win streak into the match-up. Historically Kentucky's biennial trip to Williams-Brice coincided with the South Carolina State Fair, which either meant post-game funnel cakes or the loss of your reserved parking space in the fairgrounds, depending on your perspective.

Another thing about Kentucky week is that it lets me post this video again of (currently injured) Kentucky QB Drew Barker getting dropped like a sack of red-headed potatoes by former teammate Patrick Graffree. Take a look:

Never forget.

OK, time for football talk. Kentucky is not a good team. In the first game of the season they gave up a 21-point lead to lose by 9 to Southern Miss at home. They then got absolutely steamrolled by Florida. They finally got their first win of the season while giving up 42 points to New Mexico State and spending the 1st Half of that game either trailing or tied. Looking at the statistics after three games it becomes readily apparent that Kentucky is a very weird team. On offense they're currently 5th in the SEC in points per game, but 1st in interceptions thrown. Conversely on defense they're at the bottom of the conference in points allowed, but 1st in interceptions. Like I said, weird.

Given the production seen so far this year I think it's safe to say that Kentucky has the edge on offense. Junior college transfer Stephen Johnson will get his first start at QB due to Barker's injured back, and he performed extremely well last week. He's capable of making plays with his legs, and combined with Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp, and true freshman Benny Snell creates a very formidable rushing attack. If the Gamecocks have the same issues tackling on the perimeter that they had in Starkville, it'll be a long night (actually, it'll be a short night, because UK will keep the ball on the ground the entire game and run out the clock.....).

As for the Kentucky defense, let's just say this will be easiest time the Gamecock o-line will have the rest of the SEC schedule. The Kentucky front seven is not playing well, has no depth, and appears to have a problem with motivation. This is the perfect opportunity for SC to get the ground game going. David Williams had arguably his best game in the garnet and black last week against ECU, and I think this is the best chance he'll ever have to build on that performance. I expect the Gamecocks to come out trying to run the ball on 1st and 2nd downs exclusively until it's proven that they can't get >5-yards per carry.

This is a difficult game to predict. Comparing relative strengths and weaknesses I have to give Kentucky the edge because I think their advantage on offense is bigger than any advantage USC may have in other areas. But I can't escape the feeling that SC is a team on the rise while Kentucky is trending downwards and on the verge of giving up this season. Given the youth on offense I expect the Gamecocks to continue to show improvement and take advantage of a weak UK defense. Kentucky has never beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row, and that won't change this week.

Prediction: USC 27 - Kentucky 24

Check out the 2015 contest below:

Week 3: East Carolina

After last week's performance, it's tough to pick the Gamecocks to win. I'm going to do it anyway though, because unlike last week I think South Carolina has the more talented team, especially on both lines of scrimmage. Now, I realize the offensive line didn't perform well last week and now have two significant contributors out with injury, but ECU is not an SEC team and where that shows the most is on the defensive line. The Gamecocks should have the edge here, which hopefully means some TDs in the first half. As for the Pirate's offense, they are have been putting up big numbers so far this year. They have really good players at the skill positions and are successful getting the ball to those guys in space, which doesn't bode well for our depleted secondary. ECU has the edge here.

The Pirates have been one of the better non-Power Five teams the last few years, and have been successful by running up points with their version of the Air Raid offense. An interesting note is that ECU has won all of their last 6 contests against ACC opponents. Yes, that's mostly against the North Carolina schools, but still impressive from a mid-major program.  I think this will be a close game, but the Gamecocks will show up to play in the home opener and win the game in the 2nd half.

Prediction: USC 27 - ECU 20

Below is the last time we met ECU in 2014, in the 2nd game of the season after face planting against Texas A&M the previous week:

USC 14 - Mississippi State 27: Thoughts on Loss #1

There's not really a whole lot to say about this one, other than I'm not too good at this whole prognosticating thing. This is a game that I picked us to lose before the season started, and once I let that set in my disappointment abated somewhat. I always have trouble picking against the Gamecocks come game week, especially when the opponent loses to South Alabama the previous week. Even if I can't really say I'm surprised at the loss, I was definitely disheartened to see how badly we got beat in the trenches on offense and how poorly we tackled on the perimeter. The O-line was supposed to be best unit on the team this year considering experience, depth, and talent, but that was certainly not the case last Sunday morning. On defense I can understand some poor tackling given what we witnessed the past two years, but I didn't expect us to let a Mississippi State quarterback not named Dak Prescott set a school single-game QB rushing record. I think the worst thing about the game was the injury to Chaz Elder, who had been one of our better secondary players through 1.5 games. On a positive note we played much better in the 2nd half and outscored the cowbell-ringers 14-3, but the effort was obviously too little, too late. One thing this loss showed was how far we have to go to get back to winning 10+ games a year. Given our youth and current recruiting I'm optimistic about the next few years, 2018 in particular, but we'll need to keep improving this year to keep our current commitments on board. Let's hope this improvement begins in our home opener against a tough East Carolina team.

Watch the game again below:

Week 2: Mississippi State

South Carolina and Mississippi State didn't meet on the football field until 1992 when the Gamecocks joined the SEC. The two were paired as permanent cross-division rivals through 2002, so I remember a lot of games against the Bulldogs from my formative football watching years. Mississippi State is actually one of only three SEC teams that the Gamecocks have a winning record against (Vanderbilt and Kentucky being the other two), with SC leading the series 9-6. The Gamecocks' current 7-game winning streak began in 2000 in a game that featured one of the most iconic plays in the history of the program: Erik Kimrey coming in late in the 4th in relief of an injured Phil Petty to throw 'the Fade.'

A little over a week ago I predicted South Carolina to take their first loss of the season in this game. That was before the Bulldogs lost 21-20 to South Alabama, however, and the Gamecocks performed better on defense than I expected in their win over Vanderbilt. Life without Dak Prescott is certainly more difficult than many Miss State faithful thought it would be. South Carolina learned a similar lesson 2 years ago when they gave up 52 points to Texas A&M in the first game without Clowney. I believe Prescott was somewhere near 75% of the Bulldogs' offense in 2015, accounting for 39 TDs and leading the team in rushing yards. It was evident in last week's game against South Alabama that Mississippi State hasn't found the solution to replacing Prescott's production, and chances are they won't anytime soon.

One of the bigger stories for this game is it is the likely debut of Jeffery Simmons after his one-game suspension for beating a woman prior to his enrollment in Starkville. Here's video of the 5-star, 6'4" 300lb defensive lineman punching a woman on the ground repeatedly:

So, if the Gamecocks' OL can somehow find a way to do this guy a bit dirty, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world....

I think between Orth and McIlwain SC will have better QB play in this game. Apart from the general challenges presented by having the QB play a major role in the run game, nothing about the Bulldog offense is very scary. Fred Ross is a great receiver, but the QB can't threaten with deep balls. The Gamecocks will have to focus on great tackling on the perimeter to defend the copious amounts of bubble screens they will see.

The Mississippi State front seven is very good and will be bolstered by the addition of the dirt-bag discussed above, but their secondary is in even worse shape than the Gamecocks'. Both of their starting corners from last year are gone, and the two guys slated to replace them are out with injuries. I don't think the run game will be very successful for SC, but I think if the OL does their job and minimizes pressure on passing plays, the Gamecocks will have success going over the top. Last week SC had 9 explosive plays, and I'm predicting 10+ in this game. Given the youth on the Gamecocks' offense, I think we'll see an improved performance mainly through a reduction in mistakes.

As for special teams, last week Mississippi State missed a game-winning 28-yard kick while the Gamecocks nailed a game-winning  55-yarder. Enough said, advantage Carolina.

Prediction: USC 23 - Mississippi State 20

Check out the last meeting meeting against Mississippi State in 2013 below:

USC 13 - Vanderbilt 10: Thoughts on Win #1

An Ugly Win is Still a Win

First off, how 'bout that score prediction? If I was a betting man......I'd most certainly have even less money than I do now, but I would have made out OK this week. Despite an incredibly frustrating start, Will Muschamp led the Gamecocks to their first road SEC victory since they beat Will Muschamp's Florida Gators in overtime in 2014, resulting in Florida parting ways with Will Muschamp a few days later. Both teams looked about how I expected (hence the spot-on prediction), exhibiting offenses with the potency of my 7th grade C-team and good performances on defense. The only advantage had by either team was the Gamecocks' specialist unit, and as predicted Elliott Fry and Sean Kelly made the difference in the game.

At the end of the day, Vandy proved without a shadow of a doubt that they are still Vandy, and getting excited about beating them shows how far the mighty have fallen. But this was a win that the Gamecocks had to have if they are going to make it to a bowl, and winning a conference game on the road gets them a little less than 17% of the way there. There's a lot of SEC teams that would love to be in the Gamecocks' shoes after this weekend (Mississippi State, Kentucky, Missouri, LSU, Auburn) and the East hasn't looked as winnable since 2010. Right now SC is the top team in the SEC standings and controls it's own destiny. This is more likely than not to change, and sooner rather than later, but considering where this team was at the end of 2015 you have to be pleased with what was on display Thursday night (or Friday morning for some....). The defense's improved physicality, tackling, and scheme was evident for all to see, and on offense the future looks bright with young playmakers McIlwain, Edwards, and Turner. The OL has to get better and play smarter (I think 4 different starters had penalties by the first few series), and the WRs have to catch the ball when it hits them in the hands. I think the coaches are good enough to get most of these issues corrected in the near-term, and recruiting will fix other problems in the long-term. Despite the ugliness of the play at times, you have to be grateful for the obvious improvement and, most of all, the win.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Just like last year, I'll be handing out wings to players most responsible for each victory. Hopefully this year we won't have a repeat of the Great Chicken Wing Famine of 2015.

Elliott Fry - 4 Wings

Tied a school record with the game-winning 55-yard field goal in the final minute of the game. Also generated the Gamecocks' first points of the game in the 3rd Quarter. Accounted for 7 points total in the game. Will likely become the all-time leading scorer in school history sometime around mid-season.

Bryan Edwards - 3 Wings

Became the 8th Gamecock and first freshman in school history to tally over 100-yards receiving in season opener (hat tip to 247sports.com). His 8 catches for 101-yards, including the acrobatic 33-yard reception below, have led to comparisons to Gamecock great and current Chicago Bear Alshon Jeffrey. He also had the key block on Deebo Samuel's 8-yard TD run.

Perry Orth - 1 Wing

Gave SC a chance to win, and would have had a much better stat line if his receivers hadn't dropped at least 4 balls.

Deebo Samuel - 1 Wing

Fumbled the first punt return which led to Vanderbilt points, but scored the first and only touchdown of the season so far.

Marquavius Lewis - 1 Wing

Racked up 7 total tackles and a QB hurry. I can't remember the last time a defensive lineman led the team in total tackles

Chaz Elder - 1 Wing

Led the defense with 6 solo tackles and tied Qua Lewis with 7 total tackles. Played physical and also had a pass break-up.

Sean Kelly - 1 Wing

Had 3 out of 7 punts downed within the 10-yard line.

Next week the Gamecocks head to Starkville for another SEC road game looking for their first 2-0 start since 2013. This one looks much more winnable after Mississippi State lost 21-20 on Saturday to South Alabama, a Sun Belt team that won 5 games last year. Check back later this week for a preview. Go Cocks.