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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Texas A&M Aggies Preview and Prediction

Kevin Sumlin

Kevin Sumlin

When South Carolina travels to College Station on Saturday to face Texas A&M, the showdown between SEC East and West foes will oddly enough be more about finding secure footing for each program than about winning games and getting ready for bowl season.

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South Carolina (3-4, 1-4) is three games shy of being bowl eligible with defensive line coach-turned interim head coach Shawn Elliott trying to hold the Gamecocks together and lead them to the magical six-win mark. This season has been difficult with key player injuries, especially under center, and the abrupt resignation of former head coach Steve Spurrier a couple of weeks ago following the relocated game (due to massive flooding in South Carolina) versus LSU. Elliott rallied the troops for a home win against Vanderbilt but now faces tougher competition in back-to-back road games against Texas A&M and Tennessee.

On the other sidelines, the Aggies soared all the way to No. 9 in the nation after a 5-0 start but are now on a tough two-game slide with losses to No. 10 Alabama (41-23) and No. 24 Ole Miss (23-3). Head coach Kevin Sumlin shocked Aggie Nation on Tuesday with the announcement that the quarterback position was up for grabs between starter Kyle Allen, backup Kyler Murray and Jake Hubenak, a junior college transfer with limited game action. The Aggies may have the easiest final five weeks of the regular season in the SEC with South Carolina, Auburn, Western Carolina, Vanderbilt  and LSU but the feeling out of College Station is an overhaul of the team is underway instead of a collective gelling of the team down the backstretch.

South Carolina at Texas A&M

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET

Coverage: SEC Network

Line: Texas A&M -16

Three Things to Watch

1. Aggies Need to Make a Decision at QB and Stick with it

For the second year in a row the Aggies have raced out to a 5-0 start, played Arkansas into overtime, and then struggled the following two weeks, or in 2014 for three consecutive games (Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama). A change was made  at quarterback last season, replacing Kenny Hill with Kyle Allen, and now head coach Kevin Sumlin is up to his old tricks potentially seeking to replace his starting quarterback in the middle of this season. Hill’s situation may have run a little deeper but the results are the same.

The offense was fine through the first five games of the 2015 season until the Aggies played Alabama. All teams have or will struggle against the Crimson Tide defense this season, they are one of, if not the best in FBS. Ole Miss has a stout defense as well, and bad games will happen. The newly opened quarterback competition does nothing for the confidence of the signal-callers or the team looking for an on-the-field leader that may or may not be there next week if Sumlin has an ax to grind. Picking a quarterback against a down South Carolina team and sticking to that decision is a key for the Aggies not just against the Gamecocks, but going forward.

2. Texas A&M’s Passing Offense vs. South Carolina’s Pass Defense

Regardless of who is named the starting quarterback for A&M on Friday, the Aggies’ offense is set up by the passing attack. A&M’s passing offense is now ranked No. 31 in the nation, averaging 267 yards per game, even after Allen’s 12-of-34 for just 88 yards performance against Ole Miss last week.

The Gamecocks are average against the pass, coming in ranked No. 55 at 214 yards per game. The stats might even be a little eschewed considering the competition they have played. North Carolina and Kentucky have better than average passing units, ranked No. 39 and No. 44 respectively, but LSU (No. 115), Missouri (No. 107), and Central Florida (No. 91) are all in the bottom of the heap in passing attacks.

One thing the Aggies will have to prepare against is an opportunistic secondary. South Carolina has picked off nine passes in seven games.

3. Pharoh Cooper vs. Texas A&M’s Defense

Which South Carolina offense will show up to face Texas A&M’s defense? The Gamecocks had a balanced attack in their win over Vanderbilt with Perry Orth passing for 272 yards and Brandon Wilds rushing 24 times for 119 yards. Against LSU the team could only muster 283 yards of offense with the passing game picking up 209 of those yards.

Pharoh Cooper had seven receptions for 160 yards with one touchdown in the Gamecocks' 19-10 win over Vanderbilt the last time they played two weeks ago. Cooper’s numbers against the Commodores were great, especially for a receiver, but this offense needs to give more than seven touches to its star player, especially on the road. Cooper has stepped up his production over his last three games, tallying 367 total receiving yards off 23 receptions (122 ypg), two of those going for touchdowns. Another big game is needed for South Carolina to pull off the upset in College Station.

Final Analysis

Texas A&M’s defense is middle of the road, ranked No. 64 at 392 yards per game allowed. The pass defense is fairly good (191 ypg), but stopping the run has been the challenge. The Aggies allow 200 yards rushing per game and South Carolina has averaged 168 per contest. The big question is, will Brandon Wilds stay healthy enough to get 20-25 carries and will senior running back Shon Carson see more carries to help the Gamecocks control the game by keeping the Aggies' offense on the sideline? 

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Both teams are in flux with an interim head coach auditioning for next season on one sideline and with Kevin Sumlin tinkering with his toy quarterbacks despite troubles with his running game and defense on the other sideline.

There is college football gridiron dysfunction all the way around but Texas A&M is at home and has more talent on its roster than South Carolina. The Gamecocks are rested coming off a bye, but the Aggies have something to prove in Kyle Field.

Prediction: Texas A&M 38, South Carolina 21

— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.