The Gamecocks are preparing for what is shaping up to be a must-win-game this weekend in Columbia, MO.
Is this Saturday’s game at Mizzou a “must win” game for the #Gamecocks?— The Spurs Up Show (@TheSpursUpShow) September 19, 2019
Although they played one game away from Willy B, since it was actually considered a neutral site, this will be the first true road test for a team that is showing signs of desperation.
With a heavy schedule still ahead of them, winnable games will be at a premium.
Some consider this to be a sure thing for Mizzou, and Vegas seems to agree, giving the Tigers a 9-point edge as of this morning.
But, outside of maybe Vanderbilt and a struggling Tennessee, the Gamecocks don’t really have anymore “sure” SEC wins.
When the game kicks off, the Carolina season could come down to what happens during those 60 minutes of play.
If the Gamecocks make a statement on the road, several other games suddenly look more realistic.
Without a win Saturday though, the Gamecocks fall into a 1-3 hole, and hope to crawl to a bowl more than likely vanish completely.
So, with the crucial game just a day away, here’s five things to watch for in tomorrow’s game.
Can Hilinski keep his composure on the road
The true freshman accomplished a lot of amazing things in his first two weeks as starter.
From a record setting points total against CSU, to hanging tough against Bama and receiving SEC Freshman of the Week honors, Hilinski’s career has gotten off to a great start.
His next challenge though, may be his biggest yet.
While Hilinksi may not face as much talent as he did against the Crimson Tide, the safety net of being at home— as well as the support that the fan-base provided him— will be completely gone.
The truth is, #3 will be heading into a hostile environment, against a team that matches up very well with Carolina.
He will be under pressure, he will see confusing looks from the defense, and if Carolina’s secondary doesn’t hold up, he could have to win this game in a shootout.
If there were to be a game that freshman mistakes showed up, perhaps this would be it.
So, how will Hillinski handle the moment?
Can he turn in the type of performance that will secure his first road victory, or will he crumble in Columbia, MO?
I expect some minor freshman mistakes, but this kid is legit.
The things he’s been through in life has prepared him for things much more difficult than anything he will face in this football game.
Even if he doesn’t get the win, he should keep the Gamecocks close, but personally I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a career-defining game with this one.
Will Kelly Bryant have a big a game against a struggling secondary?
Kelly Bryant has never lost to the Gamecocks. This Saturday he will look to remain perfect against his old rival.
Bryant is a special player, and he has all of the ability in the world to make the Gamecocks pay for minor breakdowns in coverage.
He’s showed better accuracy in the pocket this year as well, but, if Kinlaw and company push his protection and force him out, he can destroy a poor tackling team with his feet.
Of all QB’s that the Gamecocks will face this year, Bryant may be the most difficult to scheme for. He’s just really good at just about everything.
For Carolina to stay in this game, the front has to create pressure, disrupt Bryant in the pocket, and make plays if he tries to escape.
The secondary needs to win their matchups, prevent the big play, and for the love of God, stop the slant pass.
If Bryant is comfortable, he will slant the Gamecocks to death until they prove they can stop it.
Let’s hope that the tackling woes have disappeared, and that the secondary shows their best performance yet.
If not, Hilinski may have an uphill battle to face.
How often will we see Joyner?
The offensive performance against Alabama was decent.
The Gamecocks proved that they could move the ball on anyone, and as the team gets more comfortable and Hilinski adds a little more experience, it’s safe to say that this offense could truly be lethal by the end of the year.
One major concern with the game plan though, was the lack of Dakereon Joyner.
Against juggernauts like Bama, you HAVE to have your best players on the field and the ball in their hands. By limiting Joyner, the Gamecocks shot themselves in the foot.
Against Missouri, Joyner must be a focal point of the offense.
Whether it be wildcat looks, receiver screens, or jet sweeps, his speed and athleticism is an immediate advantage against almost any team we play.
Joyner, however, has shown maturity by understanding that there’s, “only one ball,” but even so, he’s the type of player that can take that “one ball” to the house any time he touches it.
If the Mizzou game turns into a shoot-out, a scoring threat like Joyner may be the edge that the Gamecocks need to pull it out.
Look to see how early, and how often Joyner is utilized. I expect to see a healthy dose of #7 moving forward this season, which could keep hopes alive.
Does the coaching staff stay aggressive?
To even have a shot against Bama, it was obvious that the Carolina offense had to stay on the field and score touchdowns.
To combat the defensive weakness, Muschcamp had to attempt to steal a few possessions by calling his most aggressive game yet.
He came through with some truly gutsy calls, and even though they didn’t quite pan out, most fans seemed to really love the new “leave it all on the field” mentality.
The real question comes this week: do the Gamecocks stay aggressive, or does that old familiar friend, “conservatism” come back with a vengeance?
Muschamp seems to make those decisions based on individual situation, but considering that the defensive woes are still present, and Missouri has the type of offense that can hang 40+ on the Gamecocks in a hurry, it seems that the situation may call for the aggressive approach once again.
I do want to make something clear: fake field goals, fake punts, and surprise onside kicks, are not the only things that constitute an aggressive game plan.
In fact, I think that the Gamecocks would be stupid to try and pull those novelty tricks this game too.
Instead, what we should hope to see is more going for it on 4th down, calling for Hilinksi throw bombs down field, and on defense, sending pressure as much as possible.
While I also think the running game will be important here, especially to keep the defense honest and give Hilinski more 1-on-1 match-ups downfield, sending the ball up the middle repeatedly, or trying to run the clock down, will not win this game.
I expect to see the staff take some chances, and if the Gamecocks finally get a little luck on their side, those chances could turn into some huge momentum swings.
Can the defense make adjustments?
I feel like a broken record, but since the UNC game, all of the major questions on the defensive side of the ball have yet to be answered.
There are individual players who are having great success, but there are too many other players that are underwhelming at their respective positions.
While youth can explain some of it, veteran players missing tackles should not continue happening.
At this point, it is unclear what can be done to resolve it.
The fourth game of the season is not a place where you want to be asking, “When will this team learn to tackle?”
Despite this, we are where we are, and it is what it is.
So, what does the coaching staff do from here?
I have no answer, and honestly, I cannot even speculate. As a fan, I hope that it just sort of clicks mentally for them, and they come out with something to prove against Mizzou.
As a realist, I’m not convinced that it will happen that way. I think that the coaching staff will try to patch the areas of weakness, but those patches will still be exposed.
I hope that I’m wrong here. I believe that we have talented guys on defense that can perform at much higher levels.
If they are going to turn the corner this season, this would be a perfect game to do so.
If they don’t, and Hilinski were to struggle, this could end up being a blowout.
It seems that for Carolina to win, it comes down to how the freshman handles the moment, and how much the defense can slow down Bryant.
I still think the Gamecocks hang on to win, but the difference between a tight-battle and a convincing win could come down to how the secondary performs.
Let’s hope that they use this game to really show their real potential.