It’s a game that either gets you really excited about the possibilities, or keeps you awake dreading the outcome.
Alabama is coming to town whether you like it or not, and perhaps the biggest opportunity of the year for Will Muschamp’s team is here.
Will the Gamecocks capitalize on the moment and send shockwaves through the college football landscape?
Or will they fall short? And if they fall, will it at least be competive?
Most fans just want a team that looks competent out there on the field.
Honestly, that’s probably where most of us land, but despite that sobering sense of realism, the players on the team believe that they can take this one, and I for one am thankful for that.
We have some true competitors, and Saturday, they’ll get that chance to prove themselves while the world is watching.
In preparation of that, here’s five things to watch for against Alabama.
How does Hilinski handle the big moment?
His first start was historic.
Not only did Hilinski lead the team to a record-breaking offensive yard total, but he did so with ease, and looked confident and capable every step of the way.
Besides his laser-point accuracy, the composure from a young guy like that is perhaps the biggest takeaway from his CSU performance.
We all know that Bama will look to rattle number three early and often, and considering their depth of talent, I expect that they’ll be successful in their pursuit.
If, and when, protection breaks down and Hilinski is feeling the heat of an angry pass rush, how will he respond?
Will he force errant throws into coverage? Will he get happy feet and take off? Will he avoid risk and just throw the ball away?
Or will he remain composed in the pocket and make big plays?
Many can speculate, but we will honestly not know until kick-off.
Furthermore, considering that this is the biggest game of his life (so far), will he look like the hero from the CSU blow out, or will we see the lack of experience show up in a big way?
Can the receivers make big plays?
If you re-watch the 2010 game, one thing is evident: without a playmaker like Jeffrey down field, the Gamecocks would have lost.
As good as Garcia was, Jeffrey’s ability to highpoint the ball, make yards after the catch, and bully his way around defenders, kept the Gamecocks on top.
In the 2019 matchup, the playmaking ability of the wide-outs could be just as important, if not more so.
Bama will look to pressure Hilinski all game long. If he gets rattled, his accuracy could be thrown off, and it will be up to Shi Smith, Bryan Edwards, and others to help their young quarterback out.
Carolina is loaded with skill players that can make a real difference, but drops, bad route running, and a lack of effort, could doom us against a defense that will seek to capitalize on every mistake.
If Edwards, Smith, Joyner, and others make special plays when the time comes, not only would it help Hilinski’s confidence, but it would force the defense to respect the pass, effectively giving the running backs some room to work.
Will the running backs impact the game?
Besides the impact that Jeffrey had, the other key to the 2010 game was Marcus Lattimore.
Though we can never replicate a talent like that, we have four guys on our roster that look capable of giving Carolina the advantage.
What makes the group special is that each back offers a little something different.
If the coaching staff utilizes all of the talent and ability appropriately, the Gamecocks could run all over the place.
If, however, play calling becomes one dimensional or the passing attack doesn’t pose a serious threat, Bama could simply load the box, shut the backs down, and dash any hopes of a close game.
Look for Dowdle and Feaster (and maybe even Denson and Harris late) to really show up in the game plan, and help to take some pressure off of Hilinski.
If they are as effective as fans know that they can be, the Gamecocks very well could stay in the game well into the 4th quarter, and who knows from there?
Can Kinlaw and company create pressure up front?
Javon Kinlaw is terrifying when he breaks through the line.
His size, strength, and athleticism, easily gives whoever’s job it is to block him bad dreams thinking about this game.
One mistake on their part and he can blow this game wide open for the Gamecocks via a turnover or crucial sack.
Expect him to give the offensive line all it can handle and then some. And if they decide to double team, his counterparts up front, very well could feast.
The trouble here though, is that creating pressure is not the same as stopping the play against Tua.
He has the ability to break tackles, move outside of the pocket, and throw strikes down field.
If the Gamecock defense doesn’t make the tackle on first contact, he can make them pay over and over.
Getting to him will be hard, bringing him down will be even harder, but if Kinlaw and the boys do so, things start looking more optimistic for Carolina.
Can the secondary hold up on the back end?
So, let’s say that the defensive line creates pressure, but Tua breaks contain and throws the ball under pressure.
Can the Gamecocks limit his downfield success? Or will receivers beat out the secondary for momentum killing big plays?
It’s really hard to say.
If you were to deny that Alabama’s receivers are elite, then I would call you delusional. The truth is, they are insanely talented and big-game ready.
Jerry Jeudy is difference maker and very well could be the best at his position in the nation.
It is unrealistic to assume that he would be completely shut down, but, it is not far-fetched to think that the Gamecocks can limit his success enough to slow things down.
With corners like Jaycee Horn, I’d say that we will certainly have opportunities to make plays on the ball. In fact, I think that Horn, individually, could have a career type of performance in this one.
The trouble is, that outside of him, the rest of the secondary has been shaky so far.
Mukuamu has the ability to be a difference maker, but other than his interception in the CSU game, he has not quite lived up to the hype.
I was really high on him coming into this season, and I still believe that he can get it going, but will this be the game that he does?
I sure hope so.
It will take all positions playing their best to come away with this one, and even then, it may not be enough.
But the wonderful thing about college football is that sometimes the unthinkable happens.
Could this be the game that the legend of Ryan Hilinski is truly defined?
Maybe so. Maybe not.
We’ll all find out on Saturday.