When the Virginia Cavaliers head into Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon, they will have a new signal caller making his first start in front of 80,000 hostile fans. With starter Matt Schaub sidelined by a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez will have to lead the Cavalier offense in a situation that he has yet to experience. Saturday’s game will be a good test not only for Martinez, but his fellow teammates, as they must step up big and support their young quarterback if Virginia hopes to come away from South Carolina with a win.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for me and the whole team,” Martinez said earlier this week. “But it is a challenge that we are all looking forward to. I’m ready to go down there. I have plenty of confidence in myself, and I am just ready to go down and play the game.”
Martinez and company will meet an interesting team in the Gamecocks, as it is unclear how good this South Carolina team will be on Saturday. Lou Holtz’ 2003 version of the Gamecocks struggled against a game Louisiana-Lafayette team at home in their first game, winning 14-7. With a young quarterback leading the way, South Carolina needed a touchdown run by Kenny Irons late in the 3rd quarter to put the pesky Cajuns away for good.
Much like the situation the Cavaliers find themselves in, South Carolina is led by an inexperienced quarterback. While Dondrial Pinkins did start two games at the end of last season, he has only thrown 101 passes in his career. In fact, before this season, Pinkins had almost run for as many yards as he had thrown for in a couple of seasons.
The dual threat quarterback had a good game against the Ragin’ Cajuns, throwing for 185 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. On the other hand, the redshirt junior only completed 47 percent of his passes, proving that he has a very strong arm, but one that often gets erratic.
For Virginia, one big key to Saturday’s game is to make sure that Pinkins stays erratic, and when the time comes, pick off a couple of passes. Pinkins also had a tough time holding onto the ball last week, as he fumbled twice, losing one. Last season, Virginia won the turnover battle handily and might need to do so again in a hostile environment in South Carolina.
If he has time to throw the ball, Pinkins has a potential All-SEC receiver that will be his go-to receiver. Sophomore Troy Williams on is the Gamecocks’ best returning wide receiver from a year ago, and that showed in South Carolina’s first game when he caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of Williamson is redshirt senior Mikal Goodman, who led the Gamecocks in receiving last week when he caught six passes for 66 yards. If Virginia senior corners Muffin Curry and Jamaine Winborne can shut down South Carolina’s corps of receivers, the rest of Virginia’s defense will have an easier time taking care of South Carolina’s terrific set of running backs.
“It’s going to be a tough test for all of us in the secondary,” senior captain Muffin Curry said. “We are going to have to play a great game to come out of there with a win, because they have some good players down there.”
Led by freshman sensation Demetrius Summers, who was considered one of the top high school running backs in the nation last season, South Carolina has a good set of backs that will try and burn Virginia’s front seven. Before going down with an ankle injury last Saturday, Summers had gained 23 yards on only three carries. He figures to be back for the game, and could cause problems for the Cavaliers, as he appears to be a tremendous talent waiting to explode.
If Summers can’t take the load, sophomore Daccus Turman appears to be the Gamecocks’ next best option. Turman, while young, gained a team-best 41 yards on nine carries against Louisiana-Lafayette. Senior Travelle Wharton heads an experienced offensive line that will look to open the holes for the Gamecocks’ offense. The group is strong, and will be a tough challenge for the Virginia defensive line. However, coach Holtz will need both Summers and Turman to be effective if South Carolina hopes to get their second win of the season on Saturday.
“They have a tough offense to go up against,” said junior defensive lineman Chris Canty. “But I think we are all excited about going down there and playing a good game. It’s going to be tough down there, but defenses win games, and we know we will have to play well to win.”
On the other side of the ball, senior cornerbacks Deandre’ Eiland and Dunta Robinson headline a secondary that has plenty of experience, and some success, for South Carolina. While Eiland didn’t start last Saturday (and the depth chart released by USC this week says he won’t again), he did pick off a pass, the lone interception for the Gamecocks on Saturday. Both senior cornerbacks have All-SEC talent and will provide a tough test for the young Martinez. Redshirt junior Rodrigues Wilson and fellow redshirt junior Jamacia Jackson are South Carolina’s starting safeties, which helped Eiland and Robinson shut down a Ragin’ Cajun passing attack that threw for only 134 yards last Saturday.
“We definitely realize that they have some talented guys in the secondary down there,” Martinez said. “But I am excited about the challenge. I know that it will be different than what I faced [against Duke], but with a week of practice I will be ready to go down and play to my ability.”
The South Carolina front seven will be happy to welcome back linebacker Ricardo Hurley to a defense that did not allow an offensive touchdown against Louisiana-Lafayette. The defense only allowed 272 total yards, but it is hard to judge how impressive that is considering it came against a Rajin Cajun team that is not known for having a strong offense. South Carolina started Jeremiah Garrison, Kevin Caldwell and Marcus Lawrence with Hurley out, but the trio played well, stuffing any ground game that ULL tried to put forth.
The defensive line is led by dominating sophomore Moe Thompson, who was named a freshman All-American last season. Cavalier offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson better be up for a challenge, because Thompson is a load to handle on the outside, and will give the left side of Virginia’s line all they can handle come Saturday afternoon.
“We need to go down there and be ready to run the ball,” Ferguson said. “They have a very good team, but if coach says we need to run the ball, that’s what we are going to have to go out and do. If we can run the ball that will take some of the pressure off of Anthony, which will make our entire offense run smoother.”
If the Cavaliers hope to be successful on Saturday, they will need to have an effective running game. For months Virginia head coach Al Groh has drilled into his team’s head that they must have a successful running game to compete for championships, and these are the times that he was referring to. With an inexperienced quarterback making his first start in front of a full house at Williams-Brice, it would be unfair to think he will light up an experienced secondary. For the Cavaliers to be successful on offense Saturday, they must establish a strong running game to allow some holes to open up in South Carolina’s secondary when they stack the box.
On the other side of the ball it will be important for Virginia’s front seven to stop the Gamecock’s hopes at a successful running game. If Demetrius Summers is completely healthy, that could be tough for the Cavaliers to do. While Virginia showed a tremendously improved run defense against Duke on Saturday, it was against Duke after all, and this will be a much tougher test. There is no question that the Cavaliers have a chance to have an unbelievable defense, and this game will go a long way in determining if Virginia’s D is on that pace.
In the end this is a game that Virginia might have won handily if Matt Schaub were completely healthy. As it is, it is impossible to tell how the Cavaliers will do with an inexperienced quarterback. A week of reps in practice will certainly help, but it is unclear if that will be enough. If nothing else, Saturday sure will be interesting.
Note: For information about the upcoming game, please use the links below to get access to the individual files on UVA Game Notes, Depth Chart and Roster Card, or go to the USC Game News page (also linked below) to find all of the above listed files, including weather forcasts, television information, stats, pre and post game articles and a link to the Internet Radio Broadcast of the game. When looking at the PDF files online, remember to re-size them to 100 percent for clarity, or just print them out.