Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
The Tigers get just about as tough an introduction to life on the road in the SEC as you could have, heading to the other Columbia to play South Carolina. The Gamecocks are overrated (No. 7 AP, No. 8 USA Today) but still a very good team. Columbia, S.C., is a very tough environment with a ton of atmosphere and the Tigers will need some breaks in order to win. Here are my three keys to a Tiger upset:
1. Look! Up in the sky!
The Tigers will need to throw the football effectively and throw it a lot. The suspension of D. J. Swearinger is a chink in the armor of one of America’s best defenses. T. J. Gurley may fill in effectively at safety, but losing Gurley at corner leaves USC less depth at the position, and the question becomes who covers the No. 3 and No. 4 receivers when the Tigers’ spread takes the field. Gary Pinkel told us there were plays designed to go to Dorial Green-Beckham that had to be shelved when Corbin Berkstresser became the QB for Mizzou last weekend, don’t be surprised if they appear this weekend. And with the Gamecocks’ fifth or sixth best corner on Green-Beckham we may finally see the explosive talent from the freshman from Springfield that we’ve heard so much about.
2. I’m scared of Clowney
Doctors who know this stuff tell us that coulrophobia is the technical term for irrational fear of clowns. There’s nothing irrational about being frightened by Jadeveon Clowney. You can make cracks about his name all you want, the sophomore is, for my money, the best defensive lineman in college football. While the Tigers’ offensive line will be more experienced and solid with the return of Jack Meiners, they will still have their hands full with Clowney, underrated stud Devin Taylor, and the rest of the Gamecock line. Even with the rash of injuries, Mizzou has only given up five sacks in their first three games. If the Tigers aren’t at their very best Saturday, that number conceivably could double. If they can protect James Franklin and give him time to find his receivers, look for a Tiger upset.
3. Welcome back, Zavier Gooden
With all the talk about Elvis Fisher’s medial collateral ligament and Franklin’s bursa, few seemed to notice that absence of Zavier Gooden last week. That’s a mistake. Gooden is a major cog in this defense, and while I have been less than impressed with USC’s offense, one thing they do have is a tremendous running back, Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore was a Heisman candidate before being injured last year, and looks to be back to 100 percent. He has a pretty mediocre offensive line in front of him but still manages to get yardage and touchdowns, often with breakaway speed. Everyone knows the Tigers are strong up front, but as I’ve said before, the linebacker corps doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This crew, and especially the speedy Gooden, will be a key in slowing down Lattimore.
If the Tigers can have an effective passing game by protecting Franklin, and can slow down the Gamecocks offense by putting the brakes on Marcus Lattimore, they might just pull off what would be a major upset. I expect a low-scoring game and the winning touchdown might just come in the hands of a certain freshman who is known by just three letters.