Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Gamecocks face a daunting task if they want to go undefeated, and the secondary isn't helping that much
A look at the road ahead for the SEC's loss-less teams
The questions for South Carolina this year had less to do with expectations -- if anything, the Gamecocks got rid of their penchant for underperforming when they went 11-2 last year after being expected to do essentially that. All that was missing was an SEC East title, though Steve Spurrier will tell you that's because Georgia didn't have to face Arkansas. (This is back when Arkansas was an actual threat; it also conveniently omits that both teams faced Auburn, a game South Carolina lost while Georgia won.)
Instead, the questions were how South Carolina would fill the wholes and answer the question marks on offense. Was Connor Shaw as good as he had looked at the end of the 2011 season? The results are mixed, but the answer so far leans toward yes. How would the offense respond to the loss of Alshon Jeffery, and how would Marcus Lattimore's knee affect his running ability. There are few signs that these are having any more effects early on than the lofty preseason predictions.
Victims: at Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB, Missouri
Remaining schedule: at Kentucky, Georgia, at LSU, at Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Wofford, at Clemson
What's gone right: After the sluggish start against Vanderbilt, quite a bit. South Carolina has defeated its last three opponents by a combined 102 points, including a three-touchdown thrashing of Missouri last week. Shaw is in the Top 20 nationally in terms of passer rating, and the Gamecocks' passing attack is ranked fourth in the SEC in terms of yardage. South Carolina's defense is allowing just 300.25 yards and 9.75 points a game. The frightening defensive line is averaging 3.75 sacks a game, second-most in the conference.
Potential pitfalls: The questions about Lattimore have not fully been answered, largely because he hasn't been asked to do that much, though as SMQ notes, the running back who carried the Gamecocks the last two seasons very much looks to be 100 percent. Still, will he be able to take a beating if it comes to that? Meanwhile, the passing defense looks increasingly vulnerable. In terms of efficiency, it's in the bottom third of the SEC; in terms of yardage, it's 12th, though the yardage could in some ways reflect the Gamecocks' large leads in the last three games. But South Carolina could find itself in a track meet with Georgia if the secondary doesn't shape up before Aaron Murray comes to town.
Prognosis: The game against Georgia remains the pivot point for the season. Win it, and the Gamecocks can start to think about maybe upsetting LSU and defeating an already-defeated Arkansas team to even out the schedule and maybe make a run at an historic season. Lose it, and South Carolina will suddenly find itself behind in the race with very few ways to catch up. And this is still very much a team fighting history; the last trip to Lexington saw the Gamecocks lose to an inferior Kentucky team, and the 2010 victory at Florida remains South Carolina's only win in the Swamp. If South Carolina goes undefeated, it's going to have to earn it the hard way.