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The Rucker Report: S. Carolina

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First game jitters are gone! Now it’s time to settle in and play ball.

Settling in for the offense is going to be relatively easy. For the defense, well…not so much. Last week I walked you through the pregame hype and all the feels that come with it. Well, with that comes conditioning…mental conditioning. Depending on what happened during the game, it can have a lasting impression toward the next time you experience the pregame rigors. A positive experience (having a good game) will create excitement and readiness while a negative experience (bad game), creates anxiety and timidness. Football is such a mental game and all of these little things are important. That’s why coaches preach so much about mental toughness.

While last week’s defensive performance was less than ideal, the way the defense played in the second half gives us a glimpse into their mental toughness and a glimmer of hope for the future. After giving up 35 points in the first half, it would have been easy to hang their heads and give up 35 more, but they didn’t. They refocused, put the first half behind them, came out and took care of business in the second half. Call me crazy, but I think this game may serve us some good later in the season. There will be a time or three later this season that we’re not going to play well for a quarter, a half, or even three quarters, but as long as we don’t give up we’ve always got a chance to win (see aTm vs. UCLA).

Now to the Gamecocks.

Martin Rucker was an all-American tight end for the Tigers from 2004-07
Martin Rucker was an all-American tight end for the Tigers from 2004-07

Ruc’s Keys to the Game

*Fast start offensively

*Get pressure on Jake Bentley

*Shut down Deebo Samuel

*Eliminate defensive miscues

Last Saturday our offense scored on the first play of the game and never took its foot off of the gas on the way to a record setting day. We need to come out this week with the same intensity and set the tone from the onset of this game.

During the '07 season, when we won the coin toss, instead of deferring or electing to kick-off like so many teams do, we took the ball. By taking the ball, we wanted to send the message that we weren’t waiting to see how the other team was going to play, nor did we care! We were going to take the ball, SCORE and make you play catch up the rest of the game. That’s the kind of team it looks like we have this year.

One wild card here is, pay attention to how Drew Lock does recognizing and reading defenses. South Carolina will play a 4-2, 3-3-5, and a 4-2-5 on defense, which can confuse a QB and bait him into throws he shouldn’t make. It also changes where pressures come from, so the big uglies and running backs will have to be on their toes as well. That being said, if they play much nickel defense (3-3-5 and 4-2-5) look for a big(ger) receiving day from our tight ends and outside run plays for big yards due to our tight ends blocking smaller guys on the edge.

Jake Bentley is a good football player. If we give him time and allow him to be comfortable in the pocket, he and Deebo Samuel could make Saturday a looong day. Bentley has shown that he can make throws from various platforms (scrambling, rolling out, across his body), so our defense has to play disciplined and stick to their man or zone. But if we can force him to make these throws early and often, I like our chances.

Deebo is a dangerous receiver and return man. Shutting him down might be impossible, but limiting his opportunities on offense and making him earn what he does get by jamming him at the line or playing bump and run should help keep him from going Malik Earl on us.

Out of all of my keys, eliminating defensive miscues is the most important! And given all of the young players and first time starters, this is going to be the hardest one to execute. Couple that with Cam Hilton being out for the first half of this game due to a targeting penalty and things could look eerily similar to last week in the early going. My bet is Barry Odom will have them tightened up a little bit and with the first game BG’s (bubble guts) out of the way, they’ll have a better showing.

Thank the Lord this game is at home. It’s much easier to bounce back from a less than stellar performance when the next game is at home. All things thrown in the pot we should come out of this game with a W. South Carolina gave up 415 yards through the air last week to a middling NC State team. South Carolina isn’t good enough to take away both our ground game and air attack, so I look for both facets to put up solid numbers en route to a 42-38 win.