The South Carolina Gamecocks kicked off the home schedule with a nervy, 20-15 win over the East Carolina Pirates. Halfway through the first quarter, the Gamecocks were on fire in all three phases of the game.
At the 7:58 mark of the first quarter, the Gamecocks were already up 17-0. The young team fed off the energy of the home crowd and came out of the tunnel ready to go. AJ Turner lit the fuse, returning the opening kick-off to the Pirates eighteen yard-line. A penalty advanced it to the nine and Brandon McIlwain’s first snap as the Gamecocks’ starting QB was a run into the end zone. The defense then responded with a stop after giving up one first down. McIlwain then engineered his best drive of the day, completing a third down on the first set of downs and then finding Bryan Edwards on the deep ball down the sideline. David Williams then broke a run to the ten, setting up another McIlwain run to the end zone. The defense then got a turnover when Chris Lammons hit Pirate QB Philip Nelson as he was trying to throw it away. The offense couldn’t move it, but Elliott Fry booted the Gamecocks to a 17-0 lead after only seven minutes of game time.
Offensive struggles still show up
After the hot start, the Gamecocks offense did very little for almost the entire remaining 53 minutes, managing 21:35 of possession for the entire game. McIlwain failed to hit a lot of throws after the first two completions and Turner couldn’t get anything going on the ground. David Williams did step up yesterday, tallying 67 yards on seven carries. Bryan Edwards had a better day than last week, catching five passes for 68 yards.
One thing that could be looked at is maybe incorporating more of the traditional option. The fourth down play to kill the game was run perfectly. Though it is very outdated and can be frustrating, the option is still deadly in college football. It is very hard for a defense to stop if run correctly; it forces them to make decisions, like the Gamecocks’ last play. The play calling did well to set up McIlwain with some safe throws on play action, but he failed to hit many of them.
Defense saves the day, with a little help
The Gamecock defense had a great day when backed up inside the red zone. The defense gave up over five hundred yards, including four hundred through the air. But inside the twenty, they forced three turnovers and two field goals. It looked a lot like the opener against North Carolina last season, where the Heels racked up yards but constantly made terrible decisions inside the red zone. The Pirates did the same thing today: Nelson came into the game leading the nation in completion percentage and still managed a strong rate (75.8%), but he threw two awful interceptions.
The Gamecocks picked up a big home win and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. But they need to find a way to beat Kentucky, and doing so would help them take a huge step forward to bowl eligibility and out of the basement of the division. The program needs to get back to beating Kentucky, plain and simple. With Texas A&M at home following the trip to Lexington, the Gamecocks cannot look ahead. A loss to the Wildcats makes the road to a bowl game a lot tougher.