If the South Carolina Gamecocks wanted this game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers to be a “breather” on their schedule before the final two games against Texas A&M and Clemson, they will be disappointed.
Not only is Appalachian State a good team with only one loss; the Mountaineers are coming directly from that loss to Georgia Southern, which means they will probably be very mad and very intent on proving a point against the Gamecocks.
This is a Sun Belt Conference opponent, but it is anything but a cupcake game. Just ask the North Carolina Tar Heels, who lost at home to Appalachian State earlier this season.
This is a very inconvenient and uncomfortable game for South Carolina – or other teams in the Gamecocks’ position – to play. The reasoning is not hard to grasp: If South Carolina wins, it will merely represent taking care of business. SEC teams are always supposed to beat Sun Belt opponents at home, regardless of circumstances. Yet, if South Carolina loses, it will be seen as a disaster, even though Appalachian State is a genuinely good team. The weight of a loss far eclipses the value of a win, but if the Gamecocks win this game, they will have beaten a genuinely good opponent, not a cupcake.
Let’s see what South Carolina needs to do:
1 – Stop the run
If you watched Appalachian State’s loss to Georgia Southern – which spoiled the Mountaineers’ perfect season – you noticed that App State struggled to throw the ball in must-pass situations, chiefly when trying to mount a game-winning or game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers run the ball much better than they pass it. They want to run to set up the pass, not vice-versa. If South Carolina can take away the running game, it can force ASU to pass more than it would like, and in situations when the Mountaineers would lose the element of surprise.
South Carolina stopped the run against Georgia, and that set up everything else the Gamecocks wanted to achieve on defense in that game. The Appalachian State plan should be very similar.
2 – Win the first quarter
Appalachian State is coming off a devastating loss to Georgia Southern. The Mountaineers are likely to breathe fire coming out of the tunnel. If South Carolina can punch them in the mouth in the first quarter, the Mountaineers will be more likely to flinch, making the rest of the game more manageable for the Gamecocks.
3 – Consistency
The Gamecocks could not follow up the Georgia game with a similarly strong and airtight performance against Florida. After the win over Vanderbilt, this team needs to show it can stack together good performances. This will build a mindset which can give South Carolina a chance against A&M and Clemson to close the season.