Key Matchup: East Carolina Linebackers vs. South Carolina Running Backs
By Zach Crowl
While East Carolina’s 35-13 victory over Appalachian State looks impressive enough just from the score, the Pirates had an even more impressive stat in holding App State to just 119 rush yards on 32 carries. Most of the credit for this feat goes to East Carolina’s strong group of linebackers led by sophomore Jeremy Grove, a Freshman All-American and Conference USA Freshman of the Year a season ago. And he’s picked up right where he left off. He compiled nine tackles and forced two fumbles last week en route to being named the Conference USA Player of the Week. However, Grove is not the only stud among ECU’s linebackers. Of the top five tacklers for the Pirates in week one, three were linebackers: week one leading tackler Kyle Tudor, Derrell Johnson (six tackles and two QB hurries), and Maurice Falls, (four tackles and one QB hurry). This young, athletic corps of headhunters will be tasked with eliminating the potent rushing game on which the Gamecocks so heavily rely. Their plan of attack will be to stuff the holes early while looking to strip the ball as often as possible.
On the other side of the ball is the deadly rushing attack of South Carolina. Against Vanderbilt, SEC Offensive Player of the Week Marcus Lattimore rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries. The good news Gamecock fans? He’s just getting started. Lattimore looked solid in his return from last year’s season-ending ACL tear and expects to improve as the season progresses. The second leading rusher for the Cocks last Thursday was the ever resilient Connor Shaw. Shaw kept the ball a total of 14 times and ran for 92 yards. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, he also suffered a nasty shoulder bruise and will be a game-time decision this weekend. If Shaw isn’t able to go, he will be replaced by Dylan Thompson, a capable backup who’s not as much of a threat in the running game. This could greatly increase the workload placed on Lattimore, which may prove to be a real test of his durability. The injury to Shaw could result in veteran Kenny Miles and freshman Mike Davis seeing more carries in relief of Lattimore. The running backs will need to focus on ball security while executing an effective smash mouth running style if they wish to be successful against the tenacious ECU linebackers.
Edge: ECU won’t make it easy, but with a leader like Marcus Lattimore on your side it’s hard to lose. The Carolina rushing attack will come out on top of this hard-fought battle.