South Carolina (4-3, 3-3 SEC) takes on Ole Miss (5-3, 1-3 SEC) on Saturday at noon in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. Here are five burning questions for the Gamecocks headed into that game:
Can South Carolina run the ball well again?
The Gamecocks are coming off a 224-yard rushing performance against Tennessee, and the Ole Miss run defense is terrible. South Carolina is 17-3 under head coach Will Muschamp when it rushes for more than 100 yards in a game so it makes sense to lean on the run game again, but the Gamecocks weren’t willing to publicly commit to that strategy this week. The run-heavy game plan against the Vols (40 rushes versus 16 pass attempts) was the result of Tennessee playing two high safeties most of the game. If Ole Miss decides to devote a safety to run help, expect the Gamecocks throw more than they did a week ago.
Can Gamecocks secondary survive?
South Carolina’s secondary has been an issue all season, and Saturday it will face the most dangerous group of pass catchers it has all season. Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown is expected to be a first round NFL Draft pick, and the Rebels have six players who average more than 13 yards per catch. Brown and D.J. Metcalf each have five touchdown catches, and tight end Dawson Knox averages 19.7 yards per catch. Whatever combination of safeties the Gamecocks use (Steven Montac, Jamyest Williams, Javon Charleston and R.J. Roderick are all options. The injured J.T. Ibe and Nick Harvey are not.), they will have to play better than they have all season.
What will the first half look like?
The Gamecocks are 91st nationally in first half scoring and have been outscored 74-26 in the first half of the last four games. Head coach Will Muschamp says he and his coaching staff have exhausted every angle they can think of to turn around that trend, but they haven’t found success yet. Quarterback Jake Bentley suggested the Gamecocks start the game at a faster pace, but that will require getting some first downs, which hasn’t been easy for South Carolina in the first half of games.
Will Javon Kinlaw get going?
Quietly, the Gamecocks best defensive lineman is having a quiet season. The junior tackle has 24 tackles, which ranks ninth on the team. That’s not a surprise considering defensive tackles often do the dirtiest of work on the line of scrimmage without having huge tackle stats to show for it, but Kinlaw hasn’t been an obvious force in too many games this season. Playing defensive tackle is a thankless position and often invisible, but he doesn’t have the luxury of being invisible on this team. Given the depth issues on the defensive line and personnel issues at other positions, Kinlaw needed to have a dominant year to make this South Carolina defense a good one. So far, he’s not having it.
Can South Carolina find a winning streak?
For the first time since 1951, South Carolina has gone seven consecutive games in a season without winning or losing two games in a row. The Gamecocks would go a long way toward sealing bowl eligibility with a victory Saturday. With an expected win over Chattanooga still on the schedule and a non-Power 5 opponent expected to be scheduled for Dec. 1, South Carolina still is likely to get to six wins without a victory against the Rebels, but a win would make fans breathe easier. The Gamecocks haven’t won SEC games in back-to-back weeks since October of last season when they beat Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt consecutively.