Another week, another opportunity for Shane Beamer’s Gamecocks to show us what they’ve got. Last Saturday’s performance, against an overmatched FCS squad, told us comparatively little; this Saturday’s competition is still a far cry from SEC play, but will nonetheless shine more of a light on what this South Carolina team is capable of. It’s been said that most squads take their biggest leaps between Week 1 and Week 2, so here’s what I’m looking for in Greenville, N.C., on Saturday.
A big day for the defensive front
East Carolina struggled mightily to run the ball in its loss to Appalachian State, and while the Pirates prefer to pass anyway, forcing them to become one-dimensional is nonetheless a good plan of attack. Linemen Kingsley Enagbare and Jordan Burch showed out for the Gamecocks against EIU, and I’d love to see consistent pressure generated on ECU’s veteran quarterback, Holton Alhers. With the Pirates’ quick release passing scheme, it may not be possible to stuff the stat sheet with sacks, but I think South Carolina’s defensive line and linebackers still have a shot at having a productive afternoon — and frankly, the Gamecocks don’t want the ECU offense to get in a comfortable rhythm.
Consistency from the offense
Speaking of offenses in a comfortable rhythm, that’s exactly what I’d like to see from South Carolina’s. Last week’s first half was dialed in, but the Gamecocks seemed to lose focus in the third quarter, piling up procedural penalties and otherwise looking out of sync en route to scoring only three points in the period. Some of this, I hope, will be ameliorated by the return of last year’s SEC leading rusher Kevin Harris, who missed the EIU game with an illness, as well as starting quarterback Luke Doty. My assumption is still that Zeb Noland will start and play as much of the game as possible, pending a meltdown, but I expect the staff will want to get Doty at least some live reps before Georgia next week. Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Gamecocks need to cut down on the penalties — and most importantly, continue hammering out who the go-to guys will be in the receiving corps. While tight end play looks encouraging between Nick Muse and Jayheim Bell, there was a disappointing lack of a receiver truly asserting himself against EIU (with the possible exception of Jalen Brooks’ excellent sideline grab). I’d love for Josh Vann or Dakereon Joyner to have a statement game here.
Continued strong play from special teams
Now, look, I’m not unreasonable — I know the Gamecocks aren’t going to be blocking multiple punts a game, week in and week out. But special teams preparation was clearly a point of emphasis last Saturday, with shades of #BeamerBall, and I’m hopeful that will continue. We haven’t seen much from the kick or punt return units yet, and Parker White has gotten just one mid-range field goal attempt (36 yards), so those are areas I’ll be looking at more closely. I said it last week, but I’ll say it again: For a team like South Carolina, which has essentially no margin of error, avoiding mistakes — and creating opportunities — on special teams is more critical than ever.