We know who's starting on Saturday.
That would be Connor Shaw.
Now, the main question will be can South Carolina finish off the game in the fourth quarter?
This was something that didn't happen against Vanderbilt and it didn't happen last week against Central Florida. The Gamecocks allowed to 70+ yard pass plays happen in the fourth quarter that gave UCF an opportunity to add two touchdowns and they brought the Gamecocks 18-point lead down to three in the closing minutes of the game. South Carolina narrowly held on for the victory but it was difficult to see the Gamecocks do the exact same thing that happened two weeks before against Vanderbilt.
Luckily for South Carolina, they are facing an offense in Kentucky that's not on par with either Vanderbilt or Central Florida. New coach Mark Stoops has implemented a two-quarterback system between Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. Smith is more of the passer in the group while Whitlow is the more mobile of the two. Combined, they are averaging 238.8 yards per game passing with Whitlow averaging 42.2 yards rushing a game. It's been a struggle scoring for this group with Kentucky averaging 21.8 points per game this season.
The defense is what has really kept the Wildcats together through this first part of the season. They held tough against Louisville in their second game of the season and are only allowing 23.2 points per game and just over 375 yards of total offense. Avery Williamson leads the team in tackles with 42 total tackles while Za'Darius Smith has 4.5 sacks on the season. They're also limiting third-down conversions to just 33-percent on the season.
If the Wildcats hope to make this game, they'll need the defense to slow down the Gamecocks offense and hope their offense can muster up some points on the Gamecocks defense. It'll be a tough task for their defense considering what USC has done on offense this year, and with Connor Shaw starting, you can likely expect the offense to continue its high-flying ways from their early season success.
With that said, let's take a look at this week's This, That and the Other.
This will be a game where South Carolina can make a statement and prove that they belong in the discussion as one of the top teams in the country. Kentucky shouldn't prove to be a tough task for the Gamecocks and they likely compare to recent teams that have been defeated by South Carolina by an average of 36 points over the last two contests. What this means is that the Gamecocks should come out strong and finish strong in all facets of the game. They've got an offense that seems capable of scoring points on most teams on the schedule so that shouldn't be an issue against the Wildcats. The defense has enough talent that it shouldn't let a lesser team like Kentucky have big plays that have ruined big Gamecock leads in the past few games.
We saw some players call out other players after last week's game against Central Florida and Spurrier essentially called them out himself during his Tuesday press conference. He wants players to step up and be leaders and work on the little things that have caused issues like coverage breakdowns. This will be the perfect game for someone, or multiple players, to have a big opportunity to make a statement. Jadeveon Clowney would be a great example. He'll be lined up against a left tackle in Darrian Miller, stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 284 pounds. He’s not quite the imposing tackle that you normally see in the SEC so with Clowney’s size and speed, he should have an opportunity from the right defensive end spot, his primary position, to attack the Wildcats backfield. This will be his chance to put up the statistics that everyone around the nation has been craving from No. 7 since “The Hit” happened in January.
Nothing is ever “easy” in the SEC but there is no excuse for Kentucky to keep this game close against the Gamecocks.South Carolina needs to strike fast against UK and keep the peddle going to finish off a team that’s just not on South Carolina’s level.
That the Gamecocks are starting Connor Shaw should mean that the senior is healthy and ready to go. No offense to Kentucky, but this is definitely a game Dylan Thompson could win and win easily. Thompson has proven himself to be a quality starter for the Gamecocks and the successor to Connor Shaw next season. So with the Gamecocks starting Shaw over Thompson, they feel confident that they aren't putting their starting quarterback at risk by having him open the game.
Spurrier mentioned Thompson may get in around the third or fourth possession for the Gamecocks. That could come in the first quarter or maybe the second. He may certainly run the rest of the show for the Gamecocks but giving Shaw the start and the opportunity to play must mean South Carolina's trainers and coaching staff are comfortable with the health of their starting quarterback.
The other area in this game that could be key for South Carolina is the emergence of a backup running back for South Carolina. After Mike Davis, the Gamecocks are looking for production now that Brandon Wilds is out for the next month or so with an elbow injury. Wilds and Davis formed a tough duo for most opposing teams but Davis has stepped to the forefront and is one of the best running backs in the country.
Behind Davis this week is Shon Carson and true freshman David Williams. Carson has been in the program for a few years now and suffered season-ending injuries his first two seasons. This year, he has just three carries for six yards in limited action. Williams has yet to see the field and is expected to redshirt. The injury to Wilds threw a wrench in those plans and Williams could see the field this weekend. The coaches plan to keep Williams on the sidelines if at all possible but that depends on how well Shon Carson does this weekend.
We know Davis can carry the load. He had 26 carries last weekend but you certainly want to have a second option in today's college football. Carson is one play away from being the go-to option for South Carolina and he needs to step up and show he's capable of making some plays. He's got low center of gravity with a strong lower frame and some speed. He's got playmaking ability but needs to trust his skills in order to add some value on the field. If he doesn't, we may see David Williams get his chance to shine earlier than expected.
South Carolina should walk away on Saturday night with a comfortable win over an over-matched Kentucky team. That's just what should happen. The Gamecocks know they aren't world beaters and will focus on each and every team like it's the most important game of the season. With the late-game struggles against Vanderbilt and Central Florida, you know the focus has been there this week. If South Carolina wants a chance at a 10-win or more season then this is a game that becomes a must win for the Gamecocks.
You cannot have an ill-advised performance that could harm the mentality of this football team. They've heard they haven't played up to their potential. Yet they're 3-1 and ranked No. 13 in the country. They clearly have talent but need to show the rest of the country that they are for real. This weekend provides them a great opportunity to do that.
It's a night game at Williams-Brice and a sellout at that. They'll be recruits in town that can help make South Carolina better for the future. The crowd will be into it and it'll be a great atmosphere for a good football game. Everything is there in place for a great Saturday in Columbia.
All the Gamecocks need to do is make sure they start strong...and finish strong.