I answered some questions for the good guys over at the Garnet And Black Attack about the upcoming Alabama v. South Carolina game, and they've done the same for us. Enjoy:
How big of an impact do you think injuries and the departure of Heath Batchelor will have on the performance of the offensive line?Losing Batchelor is a blow to our depth, and depleted depth could certainly come into play in a game in which our offensive line will likely be punished. However, Batchelor has underperformed for most of his career, and his replacement will not play any worse than he did and may play better. Frankly, losing Batchelor has me more worried about late-season depth than it does about this game.
How big of an impact will the suspension of Jarvis Giles create?
I don't think it will have a huge impact. Giles is a good player and will probably be our feature back one day. However, he's a true freshman and his impact in the games that matter has so far been minimal. Giles is second on the team in rushing, but most of the yards have come against the weaker part of our schedule. He's mostly been a utility player in SEC play. We've tried occassionaly to get him the ball in space to take advantage of his speed and elusiveness. The main backs, though, have been Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox. Miles does the things Giles does better than Giles himself, and Maddox is the short-yardage back and a good checkdown option in the passing game. Those guys would get most of the snaps against 'Bama with or without Giles in the lineup. I should also note that we have a Trindon Holliday-like speedster named Bryce Sherman. So far, Sherman has mainly only returned kickoffs, but against 'Bama you might see us use him in situations in which we would have used Giles. I doubt you'll see too much of him, though, as his size prohibits us from using him frequently.
Stephen Garcia has played much better so far this year, but he has probably not face a defense quite like the 'Bama defense just yet. Do you think he keeps up this performance against the Tide?Tough question. Garcia is a much better player now than he was a year ago, and I think he's capable of playing well against top competition. 'Bama's pass rush, though, is formidable, and I expect you'll see Garcia having to create with his feet early and often. That could lead to huge plays for the Gamecocks, or it could lead to turnovers if Garcia makes mistakes. I think we'll see Garcia turn in a pretty good performance, as so far this year he has seemed to thrive on the high-pressure game. I don't think you'll see him wet the bed like Jevan Snead, in other words. The potential for failure, though, is certainly there.
After watching South Carolina State and Kentucky combine to run for almost 400 yards against you guys, how do you think South Carolina's run defense will fare against the Tide?
Believe it or not, I'm slightly more concerned about the pass. This isn't to say that I don't respect your running game, which is obviously a very good one. However, I think Ellis Johnson and the Gamecocks will sell out to defend the run, as they have to know that doing anything else will lead to 'Bama grinding out first down after first down on the ground. If we give you that, even if we keep it close throughout most of the game, 'Bama will pull away late against a tired defense. Johnson, instead, will have his safeties play the run aggressively, and hopefully that will help us manage your running game to some degree.
The problem that approach introduces, of course, is that it will force us to play your receivers man-to-man for most of the game. Going up against Julio Jones, that could lead to disaster. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore's ability to slow Jones down will be a key to a good defensive performance, because if he fails early, we'll probably have to commit a safety to help, and that will give 'Bama the greenlight to run the ball.
I think you'll see us play defense well for most of the night. Johnson will have a quality gameplan, and although depth is a bit of a concern that may hurt us late, we do have quality personnel in the starting lineup.
Who wins this game, and how do you see this game playing out?
I expect to see South Carolina come out and play their best game tomorrow night, and I think our best will be good enough to keep the game as close as any you've had since Virginia Tech. However, I don't think our best is good enough to beat 'Bama unless 'Bama has an off night, and I don't expect that to be the case, as I have a lot of respect for Nick Saban's ability to prepare his team for big games. In the end, I think 'Bama will win a close one.