Saturday, July 21, 2012
SEC East Preview: South Carolina
The Old Ball Coach has his Gamecocks coming off the schools first ever 11 win season. South Carolina has high expectations this year and look to get South Carolina that elusive SEC Championship. A new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward takes over for the departing Ellis Johnson. His defense put on a clinic against Nebraska and will look to make an impact in the SEC. Connor Shaw will be at the helm for the entire season and not have to look over his shoulder. The Gamecocks have a lot going for them and if the chips fall the right way, they could end up in Miami.
The Gamecocks offense returns 7 starters on an offense that finished the season ranked 74th in total offense, 25th in rushing offense, and 95th in passing offense. Connor Shaw will be back as the starting quarterback after throwing for 1,448 yards on 123 of 188 passes. Shaw had 6 interceptions and 14 touchdowns as well as running for 525 yards and 8 touchdowns. He will throw for over 2,000 yards this year since he will receive all the snaps at quarterback. Marcus Lattimore will be coming off of ACL surgery and look to show that he is back to his pre-ACL tear self. In 6 and a half games, Lattimore ran for 818 yards on 163 attempts and 10 touchdowns. If he is unable to return to his pre-tear status, Brandon Wilds will step in. Wilds ended up rushing for 486 yards on 107 carries and touchdowns. All-SEC wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey is gone and returning starter Ace Sanders looks to be the big play threat for the Gamecocks. Sanders had 29 catches for 383 yards and 2 touchdowns. D.L. Moore and DeAngleo Smith look to fill in at the other two wide receiver positions. Moore had 8 receptions for 52 yards and 1 touchdown while Smith had 3 receptions for 22 yards. Tight end Justice Cunningham returns at starter after having an decent year with 18 catches for 142 yards and 1 touchdown. The offensive line returns three starters in center T.J. Johnson, left guard A.J. Cann, and and right tackle Mike Matulis. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell looks to be the starting left tackle and Ronald Patrick looks to be the right guard. The Gamecocks will want to pound the ball with Lattimore and Wilds to set up their passing game. If Shaw can throw for over 2,500 yards and Lattimore rushes for over 1,000, it will have been a very successful offensive year for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina returns 6 starters on a defense that finished the season ranked 3rd in total defense, 45th in rushing defense, and 2nd in passing defense. Lorenzo Ward's defense held the Nebraska rushing attack to 137 yards rushing on 46 attempts. He will need to continue to develop his rushing defense if South Carolina is going to have success in the SEC this year. The defensive line returns two starters with Devin Taylor at once defensive end and Kelcy Quarles at defensive tackle. Taylor had 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 1 interception returned 48 yards for a touchdown. Quarles had 28 tackles and 2 tackles for loss last year. Byron Jerideau will be at the other defensive tackle and much hyped Jadeveon Clowney looks to be the starter at the other defensive end position. Jerideau had 7 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks while Clowney had 36 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks. Clowney looks to put up monster numbers this year and is on many watch lists for best lineman and best defensive player. The linebacking corps for South Carolina returns 1 starter with Mike linebacker Shaq Wilson. Wilson was a force to be reckoned with for the Gamecocks with 52 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Damario Jeffrey will be at the Will linebacker and had 14 tackles and .5 a tackle for loss last year. The secondary has 5 positions in it with two corner backs, two safeties, and a hybrid position called the Spur. Only 2 players are returning starters in the secondary with Spur DeVonte Holloman and free safety D.J. Swearinger. Holloman had 51 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interception while Swearinger had had 80 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions. South Carolina will be breaking in two new starting corner backs with Akeem Auguste and Victor Hampton, Auguste played in one game last year and had 4 tackles while Hampton played in 10 games last year and had 14 tackles and 1 interception. The strong safety for the Gamecocks will be Brison Williams who had 11 tackles last year in 8 games played. This unit will need to improve against the run dramatically in the ground and pound SEC. If they can continue to play great pass defense and improve that running defense, this team will go very far.
South Carolina's schedule this year has several difficult games along the way. The opener against Vanderbilt will be tough road test for the Gamecocks. After that, they play three straight home games against ECU, UAB, and Missouri. A trip to Kentucky precedes the game that should decide the SEC East when Georgia comes to visit. After the Georgia game, South Carolina goes to LSU and to Florida. They finish this rough stretch by hosting Tennessee at home before their bye week. Arkansas comes to South Carolina after the bye before a cupcake game against Wofford. The big rivalry game at Clemson finishes up the season for South Carolina. I really like this South Carolina team and if they didn't catch LSU in the rotation this year, I would say they could win the East. I think that South Carolina finishes the season with a 10-2 record with losses to LSU and Arkansas. If they didn't have to play LSU, they would win the SEC East easily. All in all, South Carolina should repeat and have another 11 win season after the bowl game.
Make sure you check out my other SEC East preview columns with Vanderbilt, Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.