Stephen Garcia is no stranger to Bulldog fans as this will be the fourth time he has played against Georgia and his third straight start. Garcia comes in to the game as the SEC's active leader in almost every statistical category. After sitting out the first quarter in USC's opener against the East Carolina Pirates (0-1), he came into the game down 17-0 and helped avoid a devastating opening loss.
Garcia is a strong, mobile quarterback with a strong arm. He loves the big play but struggled with the deep ball against the Pirates. It is well known that he will throw into coverage when pressured but when he is under duress; he makes some of his biggest plays.
This is because he can not be allowed to move forward in the pocket. When he is forced to side step a defender or move laterally, he is inaccurate and prone to mistakes. When he is allowed to attack the line of scrimmage or step up in the pocket, he is extremely dangerous.
Due to the success of running back Marcus Lattimore, head coach Steve Spurrier has implemented the zone read for his mobile quarterback to add another dimension to their running game out of the shotgun. Garcia scored the Gamecock's first touchdown against East Carolina with this play as Garcia ran untouched for a 31 yard touchdown. This particular play was not a pure "read" and most likely called in the huddle because the h-back was motioned across the formation to throw the key block in springing Garcia for the score. With that said, Spurrier is not hesitant to use the USC signal caller's mobility.
Lattimore had his coming out party against UGA last September when he ran for 182 yards on 37 carries and two touchdowns. He continued that success throughout the season, rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns while failing to gain a yard in two games due to injury. He has shown no signs of slowing down in 2011 as he carved up the ECU defense with 23 carries for 112 yards and three scores.
Lattimore is quite simply a stud running back and gifted pass catcher. He runs the ball well out of the "I" formation, but he may be even better when they use him on zone plays out of the shotgun. The inside and outside zone plays are what gave the Dawgs nightmares last year and that success has been the main motivation for using Garcia on the zone read.
Spurrier prefers to run isolation and sprint draw plays with Lattimore out of the "I"
formation and exclusively uses the zone plays out of the shotgun.
Lattimore is much like Boise State's Doug Martin. He possesses great balance, strength and vision while also having the ability to explode through a seam. UGA must focus on keeping the sophomore from squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs must also get as many men to the football as possible if they hope to shut down the talented USC workhorse.
Alshon Jeffery is undoubtedly the top Wide Receiver in the SEC and is probably the best in the entire country. Jeffery is a freak of nature as he is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds with great speed and a plethora of big play ability.
Against ECU, Jeffery seemed to have problems separating on the deep ball against the Pirate corners. Some of this is due to bracketed coverage, but he also had difficulty in man coverage.
He is, without a doubt, Garcia's "go to" receiver as he was targeted 12+ times and finished the game with 5 catches for 92 yards and no scores.
Jeffery's favorite route is the post route where he can accelerate to get the ball when it is over thrown and he can use his height, big body, and jumping ability to secure the catch when the ball is underthrown.
When a receiver is as big, fast, and strong as Jeffery, there is only one way to stop him. The defensive backs must play big, fast, and strong against him. The key will be tackling Jeffery after the catch and having coverage in front and behind him on the deep ball.
Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore, and Jason Barnes are the complimentary receivers that USC likes to use the most. Sanders is more of a possession and screen receiver while the other two wide outs are used mainly as blockers and secondary reads.
There are no real stars in this group for the Gamecocks, but it is a strong and aggressive front five. Their forte is run blocking as they love to go "hat on hat" and occupy blocks while Lattimore slashes through the defense.
While they are a talented and focused group of run blockers, they were vulnerable to the pass rush of East Carolina. Connor Shaw started at quarterback for the Gamecocks and was constantly pressured by the Pirates. ECU had success with a base pass rush and with blitz packages. Garcia experienced more protection when he entered the game in the second quarter, but he was forced to move around a good bit by the Pirate defense.
South Carolina does not use the three step drop as much as Boise State, so UGA would be well served to bring some inside pressure on early downs to disrupt the blocking schemes of the Gamecock Offensive line and to limit space in the run game.
? The Gamecocks run a lot of isolation and lead plays to Lattimore out of the "I" formation (53% when in the "I") and they like to go play action out of the shotgun (60% when in the shotgun."
? Long (7+ yards) - This is their screen and draw down (over 50%). They want to get in 3rd and manageable or get the first down. The best way to do that is to get it to their best player, Lattmore.
? Medium (4-7 yards) - This is their WR screen/3-step drop down (55%). USC wants to create 3rd and short or move the sticks.
? Short (under 4 yards) - Play Action. Play Action. Play Action (80%) This is where Spurrier wants to go after the big play.
? Long - USC has no real tendency here. They work the whole field in the passing game. They utilize the screens and draws and they also go right at the defense with the run and get ready to punt.
? Medium - Just like 2nd and medium, the Ole Ball Coach loves the three step drop in this situation (48%).
? Short - Here is where the Gamecocks like to bring in two tightends and an H-Back and run zone out of the shotgun (75%). It is overwhelmingly the USC short yardage staple.
This is a group that is dominated by defensive ends and they are the best in the SEC. Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram, and true freshman Jadeveon Clowney are all big, strong, and natural pass rushers who can cause problems for any [/db].
Their defensive tackles have experience and are solid football players, but the entire USC defense is built on the shoulders of the defensive ends.
Despite the ability of this defensive line to rush the passer, they are vulnerable to screens and draws. They fly up field at the snap and want to use their speed and length to cause problems.
One the wrinkles in this Ellis Johnson defense is the "Panther Package." The Panther package is a 3-3-5 nickel defense where the Gamecocks get all three defensive ends on the field at the same time. Taylor and Clowney line up in wide five techniques (Outside of the tackles) while Ingram plays over the center.
Senior Shaq Wilson leads this group of linebackers that are disciplined, fast, and aggressive. This is a positon of great depth for the Gamecocks as Wilson and Reginald Bowens are the starters but Damario Jeffery and Rodney Paulk, both of whom have plenty of game experience, are the backups.
Coach Johnson is known for having disciplined linebackers that play fast and this group is no exception. Their job is to attack the inside running lanes down hill and stop the run. They are also skilled in dropping into zone coverage as that is another mainstay of a Johnson defense.
These linebackers are vulnerable to inside routes that get behind them. Quick and skinny posts are tough for them to defend. They also struggle when placed in coverage conflict.
C.C. Whitlock and Stephon Gilmore are the corners and they are talented. Gilmore exploded on the scene as a true freshman and many thought he would be the best in the SEC as a sophomore. While Gilmore is still considered one of the conference's best at his position, he and the entire South Carolina defense struggled against the pass in 2010 allowing a 65.6 % completion percentage and 245 yards per game. The Gamecock Defense also struggled against East Carolina as they allowed Pirate quarterback Dominique Davis to throw for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
The safeties may have been the biggest source of the problem against ECU as the middle of the field was exploited all night. D.J. Swearinger and Jimmy Legree were exposed when forced into man coverage.
The games like to play base defense versus base offense in this down (60%). There are no tendencies against the spread on first down.
? Long (7+ Yards) - This is a down where Johnson loves to employ the "Panther Package" (70%). Johnson wants to put the defense away with the blitz and increase the chances of getting off the field on third down.
? Medium (4-7 yards) - The USC defense tends to play it conservative here. It appears as if they want limit damage and live to fight on 1st down again.
? Short (under 4 yards) - The same as 2nd and Medium. They want to get it back to long yardage so the defense can attack.
? Long - USC employs the Panther Package and plays zone behind it (80%).
? Medium - This is another down where Coach Johnson uses the Panther Package and plays zone coverage behind it (50%). He will also blitz more on this down and distance (30%).
? Short - The Gamecocks will use their base defense and maybe remove a defensive back to bring in an extra linebacker. They will play assignment football while also mixing in the occasional run blitz.
The X Factor
Bruce Ellington is best known for his exploits as Coach Darrin Horn's starting point guard Gamecock basketball team. Ellington was a star quarterback at Berkeley High School in Moncks Corner, S.C. and he has brought those talents to the Gamecocks on the gridiron this fall. USC uses the 5'9" 197 pound sophomore as a kick returner and "Wild Cat" quarterback and he is electric. He possesses elite speed and elusiveness. He also has the ability to hurt a defense with his arm out of the "Wild Cat" as well.