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June 8, 2011
Gamecocks to repeat?
South Carolina Gamecocks
2011 Record: 9-5, 5-3 (First in SEC East)
Q&A with Chris Clark of GamecockCentral.com
A - "As everyone has probably heard recently, Stephen Garcia was recently reinstated to South Carolina's football team on a probationary basis. That was certainly no surprise as all signs pointed to him being reinstated, but he does have to continue on a straight path leading up to the season. If he does that, he is the starter against Georgia.
Connor Shaw saw action last season for Carolina in six contests and is the future at the position, with a skill set and work ethic USC's coaches are high on - but right Garcia is much more experienced and gives the Gamecocks the best chance to win. Steve Spurrier has shown frustration with Garcia's decision-making in the past and won't hesitate to give Shaw a shot in game situations. Either way, he should play some and given the different dimension he brings to the offense, Bulldogs fans could see him in the game for USC even if Garcia is playing well."
Q - What aspect of last year's Georgia-South Carolina game do you think surprised Gamecock coaches the most?
A - "The biggest surprise had to be Marcus Lattimore's breakout performance, carrying the ball 37 times for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Even with all his fanfare coming out of Byrnes High and how good USC knew he was, I don't believe anybody could have predicted that type of performance in one of the biggest games of the year for USC."
Q - South Carolina obviously won the East Division last year; what will be the key for the Gamecocks to repeat as champions and perhaps take it a step further to win the conference crown?
A - "There are several things they will have to continue to improve to have a chance at making another trip to Atlanta.
First, shore up the depth at key spots. That includes offensive line, safety, and defensive tackle opposite starter Travian Robertson among others. Interestingly enough, even though USC was first in the SEC in sacks and seventh nationally last season, the coaching staff still was not satisfied with the consistency in pressure they got at times.
That helped contribute to the struggles of the secondary. That is another area that has to improve for the Gamecocks, as they were eaten alive by teams who could throw the ball like Arkansas and Kentucky last season. When Marcus Lattimore was not in the game last season, USC struggled on offense but Eric Baker and Kenny Miles had good springs and should be able to give him a breather more often than last season. More improvement on the offensive line, better third down defense, and better tackling would all help as well."
Q - What will the return of Shaq Wilson mean to the Gamecocks?
A - "A lot. Wilson is the quarterback of defense and led the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2009. He's got a lot of experience, he's smart, and he is capable of playing both inside linebackers spots (MIKE and WILL) for the Gamecock defense. Carolina missed his leadership and production last season, and it will be a welcome sight to see him back on the field for the staff."
Q - How much better can Marcus Lattimore get?
A - "It's hard to believe he could produce more than he did in 2010 for USC but if anyone can, it's Lattimore. His stellar work ethic sets him apart from others, and he spent the offseason before spring ball adding more weight to his legs to prepare him for the rigors of SEC ball. He's now 231 pounds and looked as good as ever during the spring. He broke records during his freshman year and was one of the country's top running backs, but nobody I've spoken with expects anything but another follow-up performance, not a sophomore slump."
Q - What's your prediction for South Carolina in 2011?
A - "The schedule is still tough, with roadies at Georgia and then back-to-back-to-back at Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Arkansas just in the SEC. Those are all tough games that USC could win, but could also lose.
Home tilts with Auburn, Florida, and Clemson are probably the toughest home games on the schedule. It's tough to give an overall prediction this early, especially given how many questions all of the teams they face have with replacing personnel, bringing in new coaches, etc.
That said, given what the Gamecocks return this season it will likely disappoint folks if they are not right in the mix to make it back to Atlanta at the end of the season."