South Carolina Football: 5 Gamecocks Who Must Step Up Down the Stretch
This would be a very different article if it were about those who must continue to step up. You'd see the names of Marcus Lattimore, Brian Maddox, Tori Gurley, Alshon Jeffery, DeVonte Holloman, Ladi Adjiboy, and the incredibly underrated Devin Taylor. Without those six the Gamecocks wouldn't be where they are right now. Stephen Garcia is having a good season, but will be featured as one who must step up. That is in the job descriptions when your title is quarterback. Strangely only three names appear on this list on the defensive side. A compelling argument could be made that all five should be defenders.
Quarterback, Stephen Garcia
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As a quarterback all eyes are on you. As a quarterback for Steve Spurrier you can expect more pressure than any other quarterback. Stephen Garcia is having a great year. He's halfway through his junior season, without having started all those games, and he's sixth all-time on the South Carolina passing list. He is also on the list for the Manning Award. Down the stretch Garcia has two incredibly difficult road games against rivals. Florida, and arch-rival Clemson. Garcia must keep his head, protect the football, and make the plays he has to and he's capable of. Maybe more importantly though, he needs to get the ball to the big three. Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and emerging team leader Tori Gurley.
Cornerback, Punt Returner, Stephon Gilmore
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Stephon Gilmore is a great football player. He plays more positions well, than most people can even play. He had a less than stellar performance in the Kentucky game. He also played an underrated role in the victory over Alabama. That play of course was the personal foul he committed. It cost the Gamecocks yards, but showed the Tide that the Gamecocks weren't afraid, and could be just as physical. Not condoning the foul, but you can't deny the impact. With teams coming up that have play makers, Gilmore must get himself into position to make plays and change the game. He can do it, and if he steps up he could be a big factor in the Gamecocks potential success.
Wide Receiver, Ace Sanders
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On a Saturday night in Nashville, Tori Gurley showed everyone watching what South Carolina fans have been whispering for the last fifteen months. He's the real deal. With Alshon Jeffery on the other side, and the duo of Marcus Lattimore and Brian Maddox in the backfield defenses will respect the Gamecocks and watch those four, as well as Stephen Garcia. That leaves a spot for a new play maker. The small speedster Ace Sanders fits the role. A play here and there in each game down the stretch for Sanders will make the Gamecocks' opponents very vulnerable to any aspect of the Gamecocks attack.
Safety, Akeem Auguste
Akeem Auguste is a big part of the South Carolina defensive backfield. He doesn't have the name recognition of Stephon Gilmore or Chris Culliver, but he is just as vital, if not more. With the other names in the backfield an opposing quarterback may see the man Auguste is covering as his best opportunity. Auguste's biggest weakness may be the soft zone coverage, but he will have to adapt and overcome for the Gamecocks to be successful. The Gamecocks aren't taking the ball from the opponent a lot this year, but Auguste had a fumble recovery, though it was overturned at Vanderbilt last week. He's hungry, the defense is hungry. If Auguste can make one play in any of the remaining games it makes the game that much more likely to go the way of the Gamecocks.
Safety, Kick Returner, Chris Culliver
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Culliver, like Gilmore has more than one role. Safety, and part time punt returner, who has set a record or two in his time at South Carolina. Culliver has had the knock that he isn't a tackler, and in that regard has drawn comparisons to Deion Sanders. He has started becoming more physical and making more tackles over the last few weeks. Like Auguste, a big play from Culliver can change the course of the game. With Culliver though, the opportunity is there on defense, as well as the occasional special teams play. There is talent in every game, talent that can be matched by Culliver, as well as the other members of the defensive secondary.
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Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson. Simply put, Ellis Johnson must evolve. His scheme is barely working. Average points per game looks fine, but yards allowed, especially through the air does not. Bend don't break is less than ideal, and with Arkansas (in two weeks) ability to air it out, the defense needs to change, or the players have to step up big time just to be defensively competitive in that game.
Tight Ends Patrick DiMarco/Justice Cunningham: See Ace Sanders.