Game day prep: Five storylines to watch

Going into the North Carolina game, South Carolina fans were expecting some answers from the inexperienced playmakers on offense and defense.

The answers they got were a bit muddied.

Redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch started off rocky; his first play of the game he got a delay of game penalty before missing his first five passes of the night.

But after that Mitch settled down and led the Gamecocks on two touchdown drives, completing nine of his last 17 passes.

But offense wasn't the only thing on the minds of fans.

Coming into the game, last year’s defense that ranked near the bottom in passing defense last year was weighing heavy.

The defense had its moments during the game behind three red zone interceptions, four sacks and a few big hits from junior linebacker Skai Moore and transfer senior safety Isaiah Johnson.

But while the defense had its shining moments, it allowed 440 yards of offense (232 passing) and allowed running back Elijah Hood to scamper for 138 yards on 12 carries.

Now, a potent Kentucky offense comes in fresh off a 40-33 slugfest in Week 1 and returning its leading passer and receiver from last season.

With that being said, here are some things to keep in mind while watching the game (finally) from the confines of Williams-Brice Stadium.

1. Will the defense continue its forward momentum or will it revert back to the way it played in the first half?

The defense didn’t get off to a hot start last Thursday as Marquise Williams and the Tar Heels scored on three of their first five first-half possessions. The Gamecock defense gave up 243 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes before anchoring down and limiting North Carolina to 46 fewer yards in the second half. The defense forced two interceptions in the second half, en route to a shutout over the last two quarters. If the defense can continue to play Saturday like it did in that second half, it could make it hard for Kentucky to get anything going offensively.

2. Will Connor Mitch begin to finally settle in to his starting role?

Mitch didn’t start off looking settled in or comfortable in Steve Spurrier’s offense: he had some overthrown balls, a delay of game penalty and threw for 122 yards. While he led the team on some scoring drives, Kentucky could be a good way for him to settle into his role. See if Mitch starts to get more comfortable in the offense and starts to better link up with his receivers.

3. What kind of game will Spurrier call?

After the North Carolina game, Spurrier said he didn’t call a good game. Deep in North Carolina territory and needing a field goal to go up a full touchdown, the Head Ball Coach opted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 with Perry Orth. Orth couldn’t extend the drive and the Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs. Now, the Tar Heels didn’t capitalize, but if they did it could have been a highly questioned play call. It’ll be interesting to see if Spurrier comes out conservative on fourth downs or if he starts licking his chops on the first fourth-and-short of the game. It wouldn’t be surprising if he went vintage Spurrier and continued going for it.

4. Will the defensive line continue to play well?

The Gamecocks have adopted the defensive line by committee, as shown by seven different linemen getting on the stat sheet and 10 getting into the game. Kelsey Griffin and Taylor Stallworth came up big combining for four tackles. Griffin also had 1.5 sacks. Junior college transfer and starting defensive end Marquavius Lewis was solid against the Heels, taking up multiple offensive linemen and allowing his teammates to make plays. They racked up four sacks, which is almost as many as the defense had through four games last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the line can continue to get pressure on Kentucky’s quarterback, Patrick Towles, and continue disrupting offenses.

5. How big a factor will special teams be?

So we have kicker Elliott Fry’s Heisman campaign and slogan—the Freisman—punter Sean Kelly’s sensational fake punt and kickoff specialist Landon Ard’s thunderous leg. Not bad for the Gamecocks’ special team unit. The group looked the most in-sync during Thursday’s game and could be a big part of the game plan Saturday. Whether it’s Fry putting up points, Kelly pinning the ‘Cats deep in their own territory on punts or Ard putting the ball four rows deep on kickoffs, the three could play a big role.