If 12th-ranked South Carolina plays the way it’s capable of, Saturday’s ABC-televised game at UCF (3-0) should not be a problem.
As defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said on Thursday, if USC plays the way it did the last time it was on the road, it could be a long day.
The Gamecocks (2-1) are wrapping up their extended week of preparation for the Knights and will head to Orlando, Fla., on Friday. The bye week helped get everybody healthy — all starters are fine, and linebacker Cedrick Cooper is set to play after sitting out the first three games with a dislocated elbow — and USC feels ready for what has become a big game.
Ward knows that his troops are drawing the most attention. USC has been inconsistent on defense, and the time for excuses is long past. The Gamecocks must play better.
“We definitely can’t let them have big plays running the football,” Ward said. “First and foremost, going into every game, we want to make sure we stop the run. We got to make sure we get in (quarterback Blake Bortles’) vision, either in throwing lanes or by coverage.”
The Knights’ quarterback is drawing the most attention, but UCF also features tailback Storm Johnson, a transfer from Miami who has scored six touchdowns and is averaging 101.7 yards per game. Ward knows very well that UCF saw USC’s inability to stop the run against Georgia and against Vanderbilt — particularly in the Wildcat formation — and figures his defense will be tasked to stop it right away on Saturday.
Ward pointed out that UCF wide receiver Jeff Godfrey ran a Wildcat play against Penn State for a big gain. He had to notice it after the Gamecocks were gashed by it late in the game by Vanderbilt.
Had USC not relaxed when up 28-0, perhaps it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. And had USC’s special teams not given the Commodores excellent field position, perhaps it wouldn’t have been that big a deal.
Ward knew it, but also knows that his defense has had large lapses in its first three games. The bye week gave the Gamecocks a chance to fix some of them.
“Hopefully, it was our players playing better,” he said. “I think we got a little relaxed when we got the lead, which we can’t do. Hopefully, we can take that same effort into the start of this football game.”
Cooper, the linebacker with the most upside, will play on Saturday at weakside, although Marcquis Roberts will continue to start. Cooper has practiced very well at WLB this week, and the Gamecocks will have another body — one they have big plans for — against the Knights.
If they come out like they did against Vanderbilt and USC’s offense continues its torrid pace, the game should be what many think — a comfortable USC win. Ward knows better than anybody that the Gamecocks often don’t mix comfort and reality.
“They got good football players,” he said. “It starts with the quarterback. He’s a very good reader of defenses. He gets a pre-snap read, he knows where he’s going with the football. Got a lot of big-play capability. They’re a good offensive football team.”
Quarterback Connor Shaw fully practiced a day after missing some time with back spasms.
For a good cause
USC will participate in a special promotion for the second straight game. All of the Gamecocks’ coaches will wear a patch on their sleeves on Saturday to raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Players who missed practice due to injury or were in yellow jerseys were: Devin Washington (concussion) and Mike Matulis (shoulder).
The Gamecocks will have a walk-through on Friday and then leave for Orlando. It is closed to the public.
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