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Gamecocks can win a Davis chess match

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Gamecocks can win a Davis chess match

Mike Davis celebrates a South Carolina touchdown in 2013 against Clemson. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

COLUMBIA - South Carolina will win its season opener against beat-up and rebuilding Texas A&M on Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. The No. 9 Gamecocks are simply better, and Johnny "Football/Goofball" Manziel is in Cleveland.

But between the extravaganza that comes with the first SEC Network kickoff and the final snap, keep an eye on Mike Davis.

"Who knows?" South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday at his weekly press conference. "They could stack the line and dare us to throw."

Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder knows. And he will, determined not to let Davis jumpstart a Heisman Trophy campaign at the Aggies' expense. So here comes the first of many Davis shifts, defenses overloading against the run when No. 28 is in South Carolina's backfield.

The Gamecocks are good enough right now to handle it against all but the best teams on the schedule, and probably will get better at handling it by the time they travel to Auburn (Oct. 25), Florida (Nov. 15) and Clemson (Nov. 29).

"I don't know if we can stay out there and control the clock," Spurrier said. "I don't know if we can run up and down the field and make a whole bunch of third downs and fourth downs. We'd like to try to do that, but on the other side, we throw the ball around, too."

This is no time to beat chests and proclaim Davis unstoppable.

But Spurrier and his staff like their options for making teams pay when the 5-9, 223-pound junior from Atlanta gets too much attention.

It starts with the best offensive line USC has ever had.

Quarterback Dylan Thompson, though a first-year starter, is smart and experienced enough. He will hold the ball long enough for speedy receivers Pharoh Cooper, Shaq Roland, Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones to get open.

Tight ends Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams will often play the role of the quarterback's best friend.

Watch for game-story sentences like this: "Dylan Thompson completed passes to 10 different receivers as South Carolina ."

Texas A&M has a good secondary, except that two-year starting cornerback De'Vante Harris is out of Thursday night's game with a urinary tract infection. Linebacker Shaan Washington, the leader in sacks among returnees, is out with a broken clavicle.

The Aggies will start redshirt freshman Victor Davis at cornerback and true freshman Armani Watts at free safety.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has 10 true freshmen on his two-deep roster.

"You never know how the game is going to go," Spurrier said. "If we're fortunate enough to get a lead, obviously we'll try to consume clock the best we can. But I don't know if we're going to get a lead."

Davis will help see to that.

Stacked box or not, he's good enough to skip through holes, break tackles and spin for big bites.

When Davis gets a break, capable backups David Williams, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson will face less pressure up front.

But Davis is motivated enough to stay in there and shoot for improvement on his 1,183 yards rushing and 34 receptions accumulated in 2013.

If not, Spurrier provided a nudge last week by suggesting that Davis might not start against Texas A&M.

A rib injury Davis said wasn't serious kept him from practicing for a few days. With rest - or Spurrier's message - Davis is feeling better.

"Hopefully, Mike will be full speed by Thursday," Spurrier said Sunday.

Overworked Texas A&M game-planners weren't expecting better news.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.

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