The No. 22-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (4–2, 2–1 SEC) will make the long trip east to face the South Carolina Gamecocks(3–2, 2–2 SEC) on Saturday inside Williams-Brice Stadium. The annual cross-divisional rivalry is still in its infancy, but it has been a rather one-sided affair to this point with the Aggies winning all four games against the Gamecocks in the all-time series. However, two of the four matchups between the two schools have been decided by a single touchdown, including last season’s 24–17 contest in College Station.
Both teams enter Saturday’s game coming off big SEC wins that went down to the wire. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies held off a previously unbeaten Kentucky team 20-14 at home in overtime to secure their second SEC win in as many weeks. Meanwhile, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks edged out Missouri 37-35 on a last-second field goal in a back-and-forth rain-soaked affair at Williams-Brice Stadium. Texas A&M will now embark on the first of three consecutive SEC road games in search of its third conference win in a row on Saturday. South Carolina will look to ride the momentum of last week’s emotional win in hopes of securing the Gamecocks’ first-ever victory over the Aggies.
Saturday’s game also features two head coaches who are very familiar with one another. Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp both served as coordinators (Fisher-offense, Muschamp-defense) under Nick Saban at LSU during the Tigers’ run to the national championship in 2003. They also served together on the coaching staff at Auburn in the mid-1990s. During their respective stints as head coaches at Florida State and Florida, Fisher’s Seminoles compiled a record of 2-1 against Muschamp’s Gators.
Texas A&M at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Jake Bentley returns for the Gamecocks
Despite a standout performance by senior quarterback Michael Scarnecchia in last week’s win over Missouri, Will Muschamp has decided to hand the reins back over to Jake Bentley, barring any setbacks with his injured knee. Heading into the Gamecocks’ 2018 campaign, Bentley was expected to make big strides in his progression, but the junior quarterback has yet to deliver, throwing just three touchdown passes against six interceptions in three SEC games so far this season.
The good news is that Bentley should have a great opportunity to get on track against the Aggies. Texas A&M ranks dead last in the SEC in opposing quarterback rating (149.6). The Aggies have allowed the most pass plays of 30 yards or more in the SEC, and they have just two interceptions to their credit in six games. Overall, Texas A&M ranks 11th in the SEC and 96th nationally against the pass, surrendering 245 passing yards per game.
The Gamecocks will need to be weary of an emerging Texas A&M pass rush. The Aggies racked up six sacks against a solid Kentucky offensive line last week. And Bentley was sacked seven times in last year’s matchup against Texas A&M. That said, if a much-improved South Carolina offensive line is up to the challenge, Bentley will avoid a similar fate this time around. He also benefits from an elite cast of wide receivers. Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith will have the edge against a suspect Aggie secondary. This is a matchup that Bentley and company must exploit to be successful on Saturday.
2. Texas A&M ground and pound
It could prove to be a very long evening for South Carolina’s run defense against a potent Texas A&M run game on Saturday. The Aggies are averaging 226 rushing yards per game (3rd in the SEC and 24th nationally) with 13 rushing touchdowns through six games. Junior running back Trayveon Williams leads the SEC in rushing with 720 yards on the ground (6.0 YPC) to go along with seven rushing touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond’s dual-threat abilities will further complicate matters for a leaky Gamecock run defense that is giving up 194 rushing yards per game (13th in the SEC and 99th nationally). South Carolina has allowed 481 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns over its last two contests alone. That doesn’t bode well with the red-hot Texas A&M ground attack coming to town.
3. Tough sledding for the South Carolina run game?
South Carolina has struggled to move the football on the ground of late as well. The Gamecocks have averaged just 3.1 yards per carry over their last two games. They also failed to find the end zone on the ground against both Kentucky and Missouri. For the season, the Gamecocks are averaging 169.2 rushing yards per contest (11th in the SEC and 75th in the FBS). They have the fewest rushing touchdowns of any team in the SEC with five on the season.
It could be tough sledding once again for the South Carolina ground game this week against a very stingy Aggie run defense. Texas A&M is giving up a mere 82.5 rushing yards per game (1st in the SEC and 4th nationally). The Aggies shut down a stout Kentucky rushing attack last week, limiting Benny Snell Jr., who entered the game as the SEC’s top rusher, to just 60 rushing yards.
This game is setting up to look very similar to last year’s matchup between these two teams. Jake Bentley had one of his better outings through the air in that game, throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns. His efforts would even push the Gamecocks into the lead entering the final quarter. But the Texas A&M ground attack proved to be too much in the end, rushing for two fourth quarter scores to secure a 24-17 win for the Aggies. The Aggies ultimately outgained the Gamecocks by a margin of 237-23 on the ground.
South Carolina will have home-field advantage this time around. And if the Gamecocks can win the turnover battle, they stand a good chance to come away with the victory on Saturday. But that is a big if, and Texas A&M’s overwhelming advantage in the run game will once again be very difficult to overcome. A&M is further bolstered by an upgrade at head coach with Jimbo Fisher. That should be enough to help the Aggies improve to 5–0 all-time against the Gamecocks in another hard-fought battle.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, South Carolina 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.