USC'S KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Early success
Ever since Steve Spurrier announced Tommy Beecher as his starting quarterback in April, fans have been eager to see how the redshirt junior would respond. Spurrier gave Beecher a lot of scrimmage reps to prepare the right-hander for his first career start. But the biggest confidence boost would be for Beecher to complete a couple of passes and lead an early scoring drive. Solid pass protection is critical.
2. Don't fall in love with the pass
For the first time in his head-coaching career, Spurrier will share the play-calling responsibilities. While Steve Spurrier Jr. will stick with his father's passing system, the Gamecocks need to strike a good balance of run and pass. Taylor Rank will start at tailback, although Mike Davis should get plenty of touches. If USC can run for 5 or 6 yards on first down, it will take the pressure off Beecher.
3. Contain, contain, contain
The Wolfpack are going with redshirt freshman Russell Wilson at quarterback ahead of returning starter Daniel Evans. USC has no film on Wilson but expects to see a running package for the 5-11, 191-pound Richmond native. The Gamecocks did not have the best track record last year against mobile quarterbacks. The ends and outside linebackers need to keep Wilson in the pocket.
Gamecocks MLB Jasper Brinkley vs. N.C. State RB Andre Brown
About Brinkley: Brinkley, an All-SEC selection in 2006, returns after missing the final eight games last year following knee surgery. The fifth-year senior had 107 tackles two years ago, more than twice as many as the Gamecocks' next-leading tackler. He was bothered by an ankle injury during the preseason but practiced this week and estimated the ankle is 95 percent healed.
How he'll win the matchup: Even before his knee injury last year, Brinkley was less than full speed as he battled a high ankle sprain. The Gamecocks need a healthy Brinkley to stuff the running lanes if they are to improve a run defense that ranked last in the SEC and 110th among 119 teams nationally in 2007.
Key number: 100 -- Of Brinkley's 128 tackles, 100 have been solo stops (78 percent).
About Brown: Like Brinkley, Brown is coming back from a season-ending injury in 2007. The 6-foot, 228-pound senior broke his foot against Florida State midway through last season, then reinjured it during spring practice. Brown, who has 1,772 career rushing yards, will start in place of the injured Jamelle Eugene.
How he'll win the matchup: With a young quarterback making his first start, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien likely will try to establish the run with Brown, the ACC's second leading active rusher behind James Davis. Brown, who has 15 career touchdowns, might be able to slip past Brinkley if he hits a quick crease between the tackles.
Key number: 3 -- N.C. State returns its leading rusher from each of the past three seasons -- Brown (2006), Toney Baker (2007) and Eugene (2008).
USC -- LB Darian Stewart (left foot) is probable.
N.C. State -- RB Jamelle Eugene (ankle), WR Donald Bowens (back) and S Javon Walker (knee) are out.