The month of November is all about determination and prowess on the Southeastern Conference gridiron. On Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-3, 3-3 SEC) travel to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels (5-3, 1-3) in a cross-divisional conference showdown with each team ready to show their tenacity down the backstretch of their respective seasons.
The Gamecocks’ 2018 season has truly been an up-and-down affair with a win-one-lose-one pattern. South Carolina limped into its bye week after a heartbreaking 26-23 home loss to Texas A&M but emerged with a hard-fought, come-from-behind 27-24 win over the visiting Tennessee Volunteers. The Gamecocks went to their ground game on offense for the victory, picking up 224 of their 376 total yards via the rush. The Gamecocks defense worked the bend-but-don’t-break scheme getting the Volunteers off the field on two critical fourth-down stops.
Ole Miss enters the game on a down note after a 31-16 home loss to Auburn. The Rebels moved the ball well against the Tigers’ defense, accumulating 447 total yards, led by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s 324 passing yards, but Auburn’s defense buckled down inside the red zone forcing the Rebels to settle for three made field goals while blocking one. The Landshark defense did not create any turnovers and could not get off the field giving way to 269 yards on the ground.
South Carolina at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Pick 'em
Three Things to Watch
1. South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle
When South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle runs for 53 yards or more, the Gamecocks win. Trouble is, the junior tailback has been hit-and-miss all season, posting 100-plus yards against Coastal Carolina, Vanderbilt and Tennessee but turning in duds against Georgia, Kentucky, and A&M. Fortunately for South Carolina, Ole Miss has the worst run defense in the SEC surrendering 218 yards per game.
Ole Miss has not held an SEC opponent to under 210 rushing yards this season. Oddly, the lowest output on the ground against Ole Miss was No. 1 Alabama. In four SEC games, the Rebels are allowing 265 yard per game on average.
2. Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu
Senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu leads the SEC in passing yards (2,622), is tied for second in touchdown passes (16), and is among the league leaders in completion percentage (65). Only two teams have held Ta’amu under 300 yards passing this season, Alabama (133) and LSU (178). Ta’amu can win games with his right arm all by himself.
The Gamecocks have faced two talented passing teams this season in Missouri (284 ypg) and Texas A&M (276) but the Rebels are on yet another level, throwing for 350 yards per game with a quick-strike attack that can put six on the board from anywhere on the field. The Gamecocks’ pass defense does not get to the quarterback well coming up with just 12 sacks on the season. The secondary has five total interceptions this season with Rashad Fenton leading the way with three.
3. Don't forget about the Gamecocks' QB and the Rebels' RB
The defenses will scheme to stop Dowdle and Ta’amu, putting pressure on secondary weapons in South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips to move the chains to keep drives alive. Phillips has quietly snuck among the SEC leaders in rushing yards, ranking third with 782 yards and nine touchdowns scored. Phillips has yet to go over the 100-yard rushing mark against a SEC opponent this season. Bentley is a game manager in South Carolina's offense, passing for 1,303 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is accurate, completing 61 percent of his attempts, but has thrown eight picks through five of the last games he has played.
Bentley could have his best game of the season against an Ole Miss defense allowing 280 passing yards per game, worst in the SEC. Phillips could have a big game as well against a Gamecocks defense giving way to 174 rushing yards on average.
This is a must-win game for South Carolina if a bowl berth is part of the post-season plans. With four wins posted, getting to the six-win mark will not be easy if this game is squandered staring down road trips to Florida and Clemson. The sense of urgency is not the same for Ole Miss, but the Rebels schedule does not ease up with Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State left to play needing at least one more win to go bowling.
The Rebels' offense does not show up against tough defenses but will light up everyone else. Expect a high-scoring game with a lot of offensive production for both squads.
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, South Carolina 28
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.