Texas A&M vs. South Carolina Complete Game Preview

Michael Taglienti@@miketag98Featured ColumnistAugust 24, 2014

Texas A&M vs. South Carolina Complete Game Preview

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    The Texas A&M football team will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, on August 28 to take on the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Aggies and Gamecocks will play a close game that will be decided in the fourth quarter. 

    The season-opening meeting between Texas A&M and South Carolina will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Aggies enter the game ranked No. 21 and looking to improve on their 9-4 record in 2013. 

    This will be the first game ever televised on the SEC Network. The contest has major implications on the SEC title race as neither team can afford to start off conference play at 0-1.

    Both teams will be attempting to replace program-defining stars from their 2013 squad. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were both selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. 

    A national television audience will get to watch two Top 25 teams square off in a game that will help shape the 2014 SEC race. This is a look at how the two teams match up with each other.

Texas A&M's Keys to Victory

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    If the Aggies want to open the 2014 season with a conference win on the road, they are going to have to limit turnovers and defend against the run. It is very rare for a team to be hitting on all cylinders during the first game of the season. 

    Most of the time, the team that is able to limit its mistakes in the season opener will find a way to win. In order to get a win in Columbia, the Aggies will have to protect the football. 

    South Carolina is going to try to control the clock and the pace of the game with its rushing attack. The Gamecocks return four starters on the offensive line and 1,000-yard rusher Mike Davis from their 2013 squad. 

    Even if Davis misses the game due to injury, fans should expect to see the Gamecocks try to grind out a win. It is imperative that the Aggies play the run tough. Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds combined to rush for 477 yards in 2013. 

    If Davis is out, then South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier will be content to run Carson and Wilds between the tackles behind that experienced offensive line. The Texas A&M defense allowed 5.4 yards per rush in 2013. 

    The Aggies will have to improve their performance dramatically against the Gamecocks if they want to get a win on the road. They will also have to limit their turnovers. 

    Texas A&M cannot afford to give the Gamecocks extra possessions in a game that figures to go down to the wire. If the Aggies turn the ball over, it will motivate the South Carolina crowd and allow the Gamecocks to control the pace of the game. 

South Carolina's Keys to Victory

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    South Carolina needs to run the ball and control the clock on offense if it wants to beat the Aggies. The Gamecocks averaged 198.5 yards rushing per game in 2013. 

    They need to rush for around 250 yards to get a win on August 28. The Gamecocks lost three starters from their 2014 defensive line, so they will likely experience some growing pains on defense as new players try to step up. 

    They will need their offense to carry them early in the season, which means they need to run the ball. Since the Aggies allowed 222.3 yards rushing per game in 2013, this appears to be a battle that South Carolina should win. 

    If the South Carolina offensive line that returns four starters is able to control the line of scrimmage against an Aggies defensive line that returns just two starters, then the Gamecocks should win the game. 

Texas A&M Players to Watch

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    The Aggies are starting five redshirt or true freshmen against South Carolina. None may be more important than nose guard Zaycoven Henderson. The 6'1", 315-pound athlete from Longview, Texas, will be the first line of defense against the Gamecocks running game. 

    If Henderson can hold up in the middle, then the Aggies should be able to string out South Carolina's running game wide and increase their chances of slowing down their offense. 

    True freshman outside receiver Speedy Noil may have a bigger impact on the game than any Aggie not named Kenny Hill. Noil can take over games from his receiver spot and on special teams. Aggies fans should not be surprised to see him run the ball, catch it and return a few punts against the Gamecocks. 

    Sophomore middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has received a lot of offseason praise from head coach Kevin Sumlin and staff. He has the size and speed to be an effective SEC linebacker. If he is as good as Sumlin has been claiming, then he should stand out and lead the team in tackles in this game. 

South Carolina Players to Watch

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    The South Carolina offense will revolve around running back Mike Davis. If the Aggies can contain Davis and the Gamecocks running game, then they will leave Columbia with a season-opening win. Davis is the most important player on South Carolina's offense. 

    Senior quarterback Dylan Thompson is the second most important player for South Carolina. He is a capable passer who threw for 261 yards against Central Florida and 222 yards against Missouri in 2013. 

    He is a solid passer, and Damiere Byrd is a very good wide receiver. Byrd caught 33 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. 

    On defense, sophomore outside linebacker Skai Moore is an All-SEC candidate. The 6'2", 213-pound athlete is the best defender the Gamecocks have. If the Aggies can consistently block him, the Texas A&M running game should open up. 

What They're Saying

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    Texas A&M Press Conference Quotes

    Cornerback Deshazor Everett said, "Definitely want to go into this game and show that we have made a change. Show that we are a better defense than we were last year" 

    Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had this to say about coaching new quarterbacks: "I'm dealing with two inexperienced quarterbacks, and I am going to have to work my way through certain situations that they have never experienced before. There is going to be a little more coaching."

    Head coach Kevin Sumlin praised freshman safety starter Armani Watts. "I think Armani has really gotten better. He is starting to feel comfortable out there making calls. He's proved that he is willing to tackle and makes good decisions. He has had a great camp. He's not making the same mistake twice."


    South Carolina Quotes from Media Days

    Running back Mike Davis said, "I have great confidence in our offensive line. I am very confident in those guys getting the job done." 

    Quarterback Dylan Thompson said, "I think Coach Spurrier does a good job day in and day out of keeping us humble and reminding us to just keep working."

Predicted Outcome

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    South Carolina has won 18 straight games at home and will extend that streak on Thursday night to 19 with a 27-26 victory over Texas A&M. South Carolina has not lost a season-opening contest since Steve Spurrier took over the program in 2005. 

    The Gamecocks will be opening the season at home against Texas A&M. The Aggies have improved depth on the defensive line but still have major question marks at linebacker and in the secondary. 

    This will play right into the Gamecocks' hands as they will try to control the pace of the game by running the ball on offense. They will use play-action passes to take advantage of the Aggies' young defense. 

    Texas A&M will be able to score some points against a South Carolina defense that has to replace three starters on the defensive line and both cornerbacks, but the Gamecocks will find a way to scrape by at home. 

    Look for South Carolina to win the game late in the fourth quarter on a field goal.