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South Carolina opens season, Beamer Era with 46-0 shutout of Eastern Illinois

It got a little sloppy at times, as you might expect, but this was largely the tune-up fans wanted to see.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It was all smiles for Shane Beamer and the South Carolina faithful on Saturday night, as the Gamecocks started their season — and Beamer’s tenure — with a 46-0 victory over visiting Eastern Illinois that, while sloppy at times, was still an enjoyably dominant showing.

The Gamecocks opened the game with a not-so-inspiring three-and-out, which I’m sure plenty of folks handled well, but the South Carolina defense turned the crowd’s frown upside down when Jaylan Foster immediately picked off Eastern Illinois on the Panthers’ first snap after a tipped pass popped up for grabs. South Carolina cashed in, with Noland squeezing in a tight 4-yard touchdown strike to Nick Muse — followed by a surprising and successful 2-point swinging gate conversion — to put the Gamecocks up 8-0.

South Carolina kept rolling, forcing an EIU punt and marching down the field to throw another touchdown to a tight end, this time a 3-yard strike on 4th and goal to Jayheim Bell, who made a nice play on a slightly overthrown ball and pushed the advantage to 15-0. The special teams fun then continued when South Carolina blocked the Panthers’ ensuing punt, marking the close of the first quarter with the true arrival of #BeamerBall.

The Gamecocks picked up where they left off in the second quarter, going up 22-0 with a 12-yard scoring reception by Josh Vann. South Carolina was finally forced to punt the first time on its next possession, although that drive notably featured a nice catch by OrTre Smith, who is back in action after a knee surgery and COVID concerns kept him sidelined in 2020. The Gamecocks partially blocked another punt after EIU’s next drive went nowhere, and running back ZaQuandre White announced his presence by powering South Carolina down the field before reeling in a 10-yard touchdown reception from Noland to make it 29-0 at the half.

South Carolina opened the second stanza with some fire but also sloppiness, as Foster collected another tipped Panthers pass and appeared to return it for a touchdown until an offside call wiped out the play. Frustratingly, a holding call on the next Gamecock possession also negated what would have been Bell’s second score, when the tight end took a handoff to the house after bursting through the line on 2nd and short. South Carolina finally drew blood with Parker White’s 36-yard field goal, going ahead 32-0, but that closed the scoring for the third quarter.

Backup quarterback Jason Brown entered the start of the fourth quarter in relief of Noland and appeared to have the offense moving — highlighted by a nice throw and catch to Jalen Brooks — but unfortunately lost a fumble outside of the red zone when he tried to avoid a sack. Fortunately, ZaQuandre White got the Gamecocks back in the scoring column with 63-yard burst through the middle to grow the lead to 39-0. Defensive end Jordan Burch got in on the fun too, notching South Carolina’s first defensive score of the season with a 61-yard interception return off an athletic, leaping catch that made it 46-0.

With about four minutes left, freshman Colten Gauthier made his first appearance at quarterback for the Gamecocks, but South Carolina was largely interested in running clock to wrap up its season-opening victory.

As you’d expect with a shutout, South Carolina statistically dominated the Panthers, holding EIU to a paltry 109 yards of total offense and no third down conversions (although the Panthers did convert a fourth and short). White was the clear offensive standout for the Gamecocks, racking up 133 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and adding another 39 receiving yards in an impressive, all-around performance. Noland turned in a solid showing of his own, going 13-of-22 passing for 121 yards, four touchdowns, and no turnovers in exactly what the Gamecocks needed from him.

Up next for the Gamecocks is a trip to Greenville, N.C., to face East Carolina (0-1).

NOTE: Starting running back Kevin Harris, who had offseason back surgery, was held out of this game, likely as a precaution.