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October 13, 2010

Cobb Center of USC's Minds

South Carolina spent Monday realizing it was going to have a tough chore on Saturday.

The No. 10 Gamecocks will spend the rest of the week finding out about the biggest reason for it.

The next opponent, Kentucky, goes how its most dangerous player goes. Junior athlete Randall Cobb is already very familiar to the Gamecocks from the past two years and he's even better this season.

First-year coach Joker Phillips, a former USC assistant, has figured out what predecessor Rich Brooks could not -- Cobb needs to be on the field all the time. The multi-tooled athlete has 995 all-purpose yards this season and has had a hand in 11 touchdowns this year.

The Wildcats (3-3, 0-3 SEC) have 28 as a team.

USC (4-1, 2-1) has faced very athletic offensive players, but only one really in the same discussion as Cobb. It was Auburn's Cameron Newton, who is as responsible for the one loss on the Gamecocks' schedule as any other factor.

Like Newton, Cobb is a mobile quarterback who is mostly relied on to run when he's under center. Unlike Newton, Cobb can also drop into the slot as a tailback; split wide to be a receiver and returns kicks.

On one hand, it's relatively simple to draw up a gameplan, especially if Derrick Locke, the Wildcats' other versatile offensive player, can't play this week (he has two shoulder stingers and a bruised elbow). Key on Cobb, let the others try and beat you. The Wildcats have some playmakers, but none in the same vein as Cobb and Locke.

On the other hand, the Gamecocks' defense still has to stop him.

"I think Cobb might be a little more dangerous because he's got the ability to make you miss in the open field," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "Not that Cam couldn't, but (Cobb) certainly can do it."

USC knows too well. The last two games against Kentucky, both wins and part of the Gamecocks' hefty 10-game winning streak against the Wildcats, were by a combined nine points and each had to overcome the contributions of the UK's centerpiece player.

* USC 24, Kentucky 17, 2008 -- Just a freshman, Cobb wasn't a huge thorn in the Gamecocks' side, but did enough to stand out. He rushed twice for 9 yards, passed once for 4 yards and caught eight balls for 53 yards. Cobb also returned two punts for a total of 20 yards. He was an intriguing option to the game, but it was remembered more for four missed USC field goals, two magnificent special-teams plays and the rise of Stephen Garcia, who directed four drives for 10 crucial points.

* USC 28, Kentucky 26, 2009 -- USC was controlling the game until starting quarterback Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury, pushing Cobb into an emergency option. He didn't disappoint, carrying the ball on every play as he marched downfield. For some reason, Kentucky chose to go with third-string QB Will Fidler on the try for a two-point conversion, despite Cobb handling the touchdown drive; Fidler threw and Cliff Matthews batted it away. Cobb carried 13 times for 89 yards and one touchdown; caught two passes for 62 yards and another TD; returned two punts for a total if 19 yards; and returned three kickoffs for a total of 59 yards.

Phillips has made sure that Cobb is always on the field on offense and on special teams, and it has paid off. Kentucky has one of the most dynamic offenses in the SEC and Cobb is at the center of it.

He has rushed for 168 yards and three scores, while completing 4-of-6 passes for 51 yards and three more TDs. He has caught 32 balls for 403 yards and four touchdowns, while returning 14 punts for 171 yards and a TD, and 11 kickoffs for 253 yards.

Last week against Auburn, Cobb accounted for four touchdowns -- one passing, one receiving and two rushing. He'll be handling the ball when the Gamecocks come to town, definitely in one spot and most likely in two or three others.

"Their style of running the Wildcat is a lot different compared to Cam," linebacker Tony Straughter said. "Cam's a lot more physical in my aspect than Cobb. Cobb's a lot more shaky guy who will get you out there in open field and put a move to you. I think he's more a type of Michael Vick quarterback when he's out there."

Cobb's presence makes the Wildcats' offense hit on almost every possession, but USC has another high-flying attack. The game could turn into a shootout, which USC has the talent to win, but the Gamecocks know they're going to have to have one huge stop.

Odds are, it will be Cobb with the ball when the chance comes.

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