In preparation for Thursday’s season-opener between Texas A&M and South Carolina, Saturday Down South is taking a look at the key matchups that may decide the showdown between the Aggies and Gamecocks.
Texas A&M wide receivers vs. South Carolina’s secondary
Something has to give when these two nationally-ranked teams battle it out inside Williams-Brice Stadium this week.
South Carolina’s secondary has ranked in the SEC’s Top 5 for pass defense three consecutive seasons while the Aggies’ passing attack, albeit with Johnny Manziel, averaged league-best totals in 2012 and 2013.
Who has the edge?
Neither at the moment.
Thought to be the defense’s weakest position group coming out of spring practice, the Gamecocks’ inexperienced secondary received some much-needed depth and potential first-year production on July 31 when two four-star true freshmen, Chris Lammons and Wesley Green, were cleared academically. After adjusting quickly to Lorenzo Ward’s scheme, both are listed as primary back-ups at corner behind senior Brison Williams and Al Harris Jr. heading into Thursday.
Williams is a multi-year starter at safety who moved to the island this spring after the departure of Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Harris is South Carolina’s first true freshman starting corner since Stephon Gilmore in 2009.
Knowing Ward’s tendency to rather be safe than sorry against passing offenses, he’ll back Williams and Harris off the line of scrimmage and rely on his two starters at the back end — Chaz Elder and Chris Moody — to help in coverage. Most of the big plays the Gamecocks have given up in the passing game the last few years have been due to broken coverages and poor tackling, rather than corners being burned at the snap or over the top.
In 3-4 looks, and there will be plenty of that against the Aggies according to Ward and defensive line coach Deke Adams, South Carolina will drop as many as seven players in coverage to try and blanket four athletic wideouts — Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Malcome Kennedy and Josh Reynolds.
Seals-Jones redshirted last season, Reynolds starred in the JUCO ranks and Noil was a multi-position threat at Edna Karr in New Orleans as the nation’s top-rated prep athlete.
Kennedy, Texas A&M’s lone senior wideout on the two-deep, is the outspoken veteran of a talented group that dwarfs South Carolina’s defenders at multiple spots. Seals-Jones and tight end Cameron Clear are each over 6-foot-5 and provide mid-level support for first-year starting quarterback Kenny Hill who was the Aggies’ second-teamer last season but never threw a pass outside of College Station.
Much like Auburn, Texas A&M’s offense thrives off rhythm, preferring the air attack over ground. Hill’s first-quarter start could determine his overall success against a preseason Top 10 that’s won 18 straight games at home.
There’s no doubt the Aggies have much to prove offensively without the services of Manziel, but Kevin Sumlin has expressed confidence throughout fall that his offense shouldn’t look much different with Hill at the helm.
We’ll see the post-Manziel effect firsthand Thursday night, especially on third down. Should Hill establish tempo with his pass-catching arsenal in a raucous environment against an unproven secondary, Texas A&M’s in good shape to make it a game in the fourth quarter.
But questions remain on both sides in this matchup breakdown and when that happens, the edge often goes to the home team.