South Carolina Texas A M Football (copy)

Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond gave the Gamecocks fits in Texas A&M’s 24-17 victory in 2017. USC is 0-4 against the Aggies. File/Sam Craft/AP

COLUMBIA — To win, and to win in that fashion, can be viewed as a recharging of South Carolina’s season.

Only if the Gamecocks keep forward progress.

They’re in a bad deviation after five weeks, still looking for their first winning streak of the season after following every win with a loss. Naturally, about to face a tough Texas A&M team in a series where they’ve never won after one of the most exciting victories in school history, some are expecting a letdown.

“You’re talking about a team that continued to fight regardless of circumstances going into the game, and regardless of circumstances during the game,” coach Will Muschamp said after last week’s wacky 37-35 win over Missouri. “Really proud of our football team to hang in there and do what you have to do to win games.”

They need that again in their quest to win the Bonham Trophy (seriously, there’s a trophy for this game) for the first time.

Four keys to beating Texas A&M:

Stop the run

Texas A&M has the league’s most productive running back and USC has the league’s next-to-worst rushing defense. Think that may be a hint?

Like Kentucky two weeks ago, USC knows exactly what the Aggies are going to do on offense. They failed to stop it against the Wildcats, and they somehow played worse against a Missouri team that mostly relies on its quarterback’s arm. Muschamp is very frustrated with his run defense but after five games, there’s no magic scheme that’s going to pop in his head late at night.

USC has to stop the run with the players it has. That’s as simple as it gets.

Bentley is back

Jake Bentley will start at quarterback, although he will have to wear a brace on his knee and his mobility might be limited. Michael Scarnecchia will return to his familiar backup role after a brilliant game against Missouri.

Bentley is the better quarterback and gives USC a better chance to win. He has more experience and although A&M’s secondary is only a couple of ticks above Missouri’s, leaving some to wonder if the same approach that worked last week can work this week, Bentley got the call.

Yet now Bentley knows that Scarnecchia is capable of winning. Perhaps that tightens Bentley’s game, which could use it. Nothing like the threat of losing your job to make you improve it.

Too many penalties

There’s no relationship between penalties and winning. Muschamp made that clear during his stint at Florida, where he upset with the amount of flags his teams were receiving and researched the Gators’ three national championship teams. All led the SEC in penalties.

This year’s Gamecocks are only behind Ole Miss in penalties.

“I never want to hold back a player from his personality and who he is, but you can’t hurt your football team. You can’t make silly decisions and lose your composure,” Muschamp said. “We have had too many self-inflicted wounds.”

USC isn’t talented enough to win when it hurts itself. Especially when it’s 15 yards every time a Gamecock opens his mouth.

Pivotal game for Gamecocks

USC is not going to the SEC Championship Game. It can still match last season’s nine wins or perhaps surpass it.

Like Vanderbilt three weeks ago and Missouri last week, the Gamecocks face a game that can define their season. Win this, go into a bye for a much-needed rest and then host a dreadful Tennessee team to end the month.

Lose, and it’s a repeat of Georgia – think about a loss for two weeks and realize that three wins to get bowl-eligible is suddenly pretty dicey.

Prediction

Texas A&M 24, South Carolina 21

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.