Josh Kendall

Kendall’s Pick: USC has chance to keep building confidence

South Carolina defensive end Boosie Whitlow
South Carolina defensive end Boosie Whitlow

South Carolina’s schedule was considered one of the toughest in the nation heading into the season.

At the moment, though, it feels like it’s doing the Gamecocks a favor.

After back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Georgia in the middle of the month, South Carolina needed something to make it feel good about itself, and, lo and behold, here came UCF to town. The Knights were winless, coming off a loss to previously winless Furman and had the worst offense in the FBS.

The result was a 31-14 confidence-boosting win for South Carolina.

Now, the Gamecocks get Missouri, which has the worst statistical offense in the SEC and will be starting their backup quarterback on top of that. The Tigers are last in the conference in scoring average (20.8), total yards (328.3) and rushing yards (108.5). It’s easy to understand why many Missouri fans think new starter Drew Lock, a four-star freshman, will be an upgrade from suspended junior Maty Mauk. Statistically, he could not be a downgrade.

South Carolina’s defensive coaches and players believe they made a stride last week against the Knights by, among other things, notching their third second-half shutout of the season. Moving Skai Moore to weakside linebacker and starting T.J. Holloman at middle linebacker seemed to help a little last week. Getting cornerback Chris Lammons back from a knee injury should help a little more this week.

If the Gamecocks can keep getting some pass rush from Boosie Whitlow and maybe someone else, maybe all these little things will add up to dramatic changes.

South Carolina is 13th in the SEC in total defense, allowing 411.3 yards per game. It is 12th in the league in pass defense, allowing 239.5 yards per game. Head coach Steve Spurrier believes Lock’s insertion into the lineup will make the Tigers a more pass-oriented team. It’s debatable if that’s a good thing for the Gamecocks or not.

Both of these teams have plenty of issues to work through in the final two-thirds of the season. Missouri will have an easier time doing it this week because it’s playing at home.

Prediction: Tigers 23, Gamecocks 22