Call this game the battle of the backups.
USC quarterback Dylan Thompson, who’s taking over for the injured Connor Shaw, will face off against Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, a redshirt freshman who started his first game in last week’s win over Florida.
Mauk played well in keeping the No. 5 Tigers unbeaten, as he passed for 295 yards with one touchdown and rushed for another touchdown.
“He’s very similar to (injured starter James) Franklin,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “He’s been taught their system. They run the system very well.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Despite being 6-foot and 200 pounds, Mauk has the ability to stand in the pocket and throw downfield as well as take off and run.
“This young man is probably a better runner than Franklin is. Franklin is a more physical guy and hard to bring down when he does run the ball,” Ward said. “This young man can run, and you saw him outrun some guys against Florida going to the corner. That’s what the system is set up for. It’s like us. We’re a spread team, for the most part, with an athletic quarterback. Connor is not a tall guy.”
Ward said the defensive linemen might be able to affect Mauk because of his height if they get their hands up on throws, but the spread offense generally creates seams.
Steve Spurrier on his call-in show Thursday night said that Shaw was available to play and would be available if called upon Saturday.
With three wide receivers 6-foot-4 or taller, Missouri poses the toughest task yet for South Carolina’s defensive backs, secondary coach Grady Brown said. The Tigers are led by 6-4 senior L’Damian Washington, who has 32 catches for 539 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I think this will be the best group of receivers as well as the best quarterback in relation to what they do that we have faced all year,” Brown said. “I am really impressed with what they do offensively. (The defensive backs) will have to compete as hard as they have ever competed this weekend when the ball is in the air.”
Ward expects the Tigers to throw the ball down the field a lot to give those big receivers a chance. But he’s convinced his cornerbacks, Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, can compete, citing their vertical-leaping ability.
“Those guys are close to 40 (inches),” he said. “Of course, we’ll be ready.”
Ward said freshman safety Chaz Elder, who missed the Tennessee game with a concussion, returned to practice Wednesday and will be available to play. Junior safety Kadetrix Marcus is expected to start at free safety.
“Chaz brings the element of athleticism, he can run,” Ward said. “We expect him to be factor.”
Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (knee) also should be available to play. Sophomore defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. (ankle) will not play this weekend.
Other Players who did not practice or wore yellow jerseys were: Brandon Wilds (dislocated elbow), Cody Waldrop (ankle), Devin Washington (concussion), and Mike Matulis (shoulder).
Spur Larenz Bryant (undisclosed injury from Wednesday) returned to practice Thursday.
Linebackers coach Kirk Botkin is content to rotate linebackers.
With little separation between T.J. Holloman and Kaiwan Lewis at middle linebacker and Marcquis Roberts and Skai Moore at weakside linebacker, the Gamecocks plan to keep using all four players in mostly equal roles for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t think anybody is playing just flat out better than other people,” Botkin said. “If you have the ability to rotate guys, you need to play them. There hasn’t been a big falloff when you put the twos in.”
Roberts is tied for the team lead in tackles with 32. Moore is third with 30 stops.
“We started camp by saying let’s just get better week by week by week, and I think we are doing that,” Botkin said. “At times we look dang good, and sometimes we don’t. It’s still a consistency issue with these young backers.”
Sophomore Cedrick Cooper isn’t ready to get into the rotation yet.
“You have to earn your job out here at practice and be a little bit more consistent,” Botkin said.
Spurrier’s first game in Columbia, Mo., also will be South Carolina’s farthest trip north since 1991. The Gamecocks have not traveled outside what used to be the SEC footprint since playing at West Virginia that year, which was their final season as an independent team before joining the SEC. South Carolina lost 21-16 that day. The last time the Gamecocks won a game further north than Saturday’s trip was Sept. 27, 1980, when they beat Michigan 17-14.
The low on Saturday in Columbia, Mo., is expected to be 31 degrees.