Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare stadium, the Gamecocks were blessed to have a bye week before hosting the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. It's one of the few times in the past few years the bye week has been scheduled beneficially. In this case, facing a Crimson Tide team coming off of two consecutive big conference games.
Alabama coach Nick Saban is notorious for keeping his teams on their toes to avoid the highly discussed and deadly "letdown" game. Saban's Tide are without a doubt the top team in the country, but being the best means you have the biggest target in the country on your back. Saban has said that this game will define his team. Is it praise for the Gamecocks or more motivation for his rolling Tide?
The Gamecocks were criticized by their coach following the loss to Auburn. Steve Spurrier said that maybe the Gamecocks didn't take a loss as hard as they should. Spurrier also squashed any so-called quarterback controversy less than three days after it started by naming Stephen Garcia the starter for the Alabama game.
Stephen Garcia could have suffered a confidence crisis following his two turnovers, subsequent benching, and the likely injury that caused the first turnover. He told the media that the players on the team "had his back" and he knew what he had to do. That includes holding the ball, and getting down to avoid hits when he scrambles to make a play out of nothing.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott and head coach Steve Spurrier weren't shy with their criticism of the offensive line last week, but coming off the bye down the stretch into the Alabama game, that critique has softened. The line is getting healthier and some praise is being delivered.
There is one key thing to watch. Alabama hasn't gotten to the quarterback that many times this year. South Carolina's offensive line is notorious for letting defenses get to their quarterback. Which trend will break? Will the Tide get to Garcia or will the Gamecock's line keep their leader safe?
There have also been a few other names related to injuries. Shaq Wilson, barring something amazing, is done for the season with his hamstring, a tremendous loss to the Gamecocks' D. On a more positive note, DeVonte Holloman is practicing again after suffering a concussion against Auburn. Holloman can be a huge factor for the Gamecocks defense, and will need to step up, along with everyone else in Wilson's absence to stop the Tide.
Akeem Auguste and Chris Culliver have been spotted working after practice. Keeping with Chris Culliver, it has been stated that he will be benched if he commits another personal foul to harm the team. Extra added motivation for Culliver to be at the top of his game, as well as the rest of the Gamecock defense.
The Gamecocks needed the bye to regroup. Steve Spurrier has made comments, and done a few things reminiscent of the "old" Ol Ball Coach. Media was shut out of practice at a point this week, and Williams Brice Stadium will be rocking Saturday at 3:30. Spurrier wasn't unhappy that ESPN College GameDay will be broadcasting from Columbia in anticipation for a critical game for both teams.
The Gamecocks need to, and almost must, win to have any hope of capturing the SEC East. Alabama has strong competition with the Auburn Tigers, and a stumble now would hurt the Tide in the running for the SEC West, and could leave that division wide open until the Iron Bowl, and that wouldn't make Nick Saban happy.
Some in the media are calling for this to the upset or letdown for Alabama. South Carolina can't listen to that. Following their loss to Auburn, players said that the media hadn't helped and maybe their minds weren't on the game. With Spurrier fine with the attention this week, it would seem that he's gotten his players' minds on what's important.
The Gamecocks aren't likely to win this game with their defense. Ellis Johnson has stated that Mark Ingram will get his seven- and eight-yard gains, but it's preventing him from getting the ones in double digits that is important. Ingram and Richardson will be nearly impossible to stop, so focusing on the passing game and the hobbled Julio Jones is a key.
Speaking of running, the Gamecocks must mix in a healthy dose of Marcus Lattimore, Brian Maddox, and Kenny Miles. The Gamecocks' offense has turned some heads and rightfully so. The Gamecocks can test Alabama's secondary as well, especially with Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley, D.L. Moore, and the small speedster, Ace Sanders.
The Gamecocks have to play maybe the most complete game they have played as a team to win this one. While it would be a huge upset, it may not be the biggest shocker of the season.