Treading the waters of the SEC is tough enough, but adding two additional conference games into the mix makes the request brutal. On Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks head to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels in a must-win game for both teams hoping to salvage the remains of their season. Each squad started the 2020 schedule off on a high note, but both have been losing traction since due to an unforgiving schedule.
The Gamecocks (2-4) opened the season with losses to ranked Tennessee and Florida squads but quickly moved back to even claiming victories over Vanderbilt and then-No. 15 Auburn. The wave of top programs has not ceased, taking blowout losses to LSU and No. 7 A&M. After surrendering 48 points at home to the Aggies, the Gamecocks must face another high-scoring offense with a banged-up defense.
Regardless of the showdown, the Rebels (2-4) are going to put points on the board. A few twists and turns here and there with still developing sophomore quarterback Matt Corral, Ole Miss is moving the ball up and down the field at a pace of 541.0 yards a game. Trouble is, the defense is essentially allowing the opposition to do the same (535.5). If the defense can create a few stops against South Carolina, Ole Miss can pull out of the SEC West cellar with Mississippi State and LSU dormant.
South Carolina at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -11.5
When South Carolina Has the Ball
If there hasn't been heat in the Gamecocks' meeting rooms between head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, after 150 yards of total offense against A&M, best bet there was on Sunday. Bobo has stuck with Colorado State grad transfer quarterback Collin Hill down a five-game production slide masked with wins against Vandy and Auburn. Hill had a game best to be forgotten, completing 8-of-21 for 66 yards with two interceptions against the Aggies. They pulled the hook too late for sophomore Ryan Hilinski to make much of a difference, even though he passed 4-of-6 for 34 yards. Hilinski did manage to avoid throwing a pick or taking a sack.
With nothing working offensively, one of the SEC's best tailbacks was kept under wraps last week. Kevin Harris rushed 13 times and produced 39 of the team's 50 net yards. Receiver Shi Smith stayed on the path of potential postseason All-SEC honors by hauling in seven passes for 64 yards.
What fixes an ailing offense from the outside in? Going against a bad defense. For years, Ole Miss has been one of the conference's worst at stopping opposing offenses, and the 2020 season has been no different. Teams are posting 40.7 points a game on the Rebels, which puts extra heat on their offense to produce. Harris stands to have a good game if the line shows up, seeing as Mississippi's run defense is allowing 231.0 yards per contest.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
Under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, the Ole Miss offense has become one of college football's best, ranked fifth in the FBS division. Receiver Elijah Moore is statistically the best in the SEC with 61 receptions for 829 yards. Another conference leader is tight end Kenny Yeboah. At 6-foot-4, 240, the senior is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties. Yeboah does not get many touches, but when he does, he turns them into explosive plays, with 21.4 yards per reception and six touchdowns.
Coming out of nowhere, Matt Corral is pushing Alabama's Mac Jones and Kyle Trask atop the leaderboard in every major passing category. His six-pick game against Arkansas aside, he has been extremely accurate, completing passes at a 71.7 percent rate and amassing 1,846 yards with 18 touchdowns. If bottled up, Corral will take a sack, but if there is a crease in the pocket, he can make teams pay with his dual-threat abilities.
South Carolina started the season as one of the nation's best run defenses, clamping down on teams for 96.3 yards an outing in the first three, but has unraveled to the point of coughing up 249.7 over the last three showdowns. South Carolina's pass defense, given the competition, has been adequate at 250.8 yards per. To make matters worse, defensive linemen Zacch Pickens and Aaron Sterling, along with defensive backs Shilo Sanders and R.J. Roderick, are questionable this week due to various injuries.
Facing the Ole Miss offense is not for the faint of heart or the weakened… and South Carolina looks like both riding into town on a two-game slide. Hill has not shown the ability to go pass for pass with the elite quarterbacks in the SEC. If Hill can't get the offense moving quickly again, will Muschamp force the issue sooner than later putting Hilinski in for a fair chance at competing with the Rebels? Before Bobo came to town, Hilinski was the future of South Carolina's offense.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, South Carolina 24
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— 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.
(Matt Corral photo courtesy of @OleMissFB)