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South Carolina at East Carolina: Game Preview

Welcoming a familiar foe back to the schedule.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

With a season-opening win under their belt, the South Carolina Gamecocks take their show on the road to Greenville, N.C., this Saturday, where they’ll face off against the East Carolina Pirates (and yes, I’m still upset that this is a road game for some ungodly reason). This is USC’s final chance for a tune-up before the SEC schedule starts in earnest next week with a top-5 Georgia team, so fans will be looking to see more signs of improvement — especially in the Gamecocks’ first crack against an FBS team this year.

Who are these guys? As a frequent guest on South Carolina’s non-conference schedule, ECU doesn’t really need an introduction, but: The Pirates hail from the American Athletic Conference, where they are coached by Mike Houston as the program continues to try to find footing after the ill-considered dismissal of Ruffin McNeill. Along with Navy, ECU was tabbed to finish eighth in the conference’s preseason media poll; the Pirates are coming off a 3-6 season.

South Carolina leads this series 14-5, but it’s had its share of nailbiters, and the upset-minded Pirates won five out of seven games during the 1990s. Yikes!

Also, the first question under Google’s “People also ask” field when you search for “East Carolina football” is whether ECU is considered a party school. If you have to ask...

What have they been up to lately? East Carolina started the season with a 33-19 loss to Appalachian State, but far be it from us to judge on that front! Quarterback Holton Alhers was 22 of 40 for 295 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, while Keaton Mitchell led the Pirate receiving corps with 79 yards on five catches and a touchdown, and was the team’s leading rusher with 50 yards. If that sounds bad, it’s because it is: ECU mustered only 86 yards on the ground while surrendering 226 to the Mountaineers, and even worse, was plagued by seven penalties for 90 yards.

What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? Another week, another largely “I dunno” answer to this one. You can’t take a whole lot away from what was a glorified scrimmage against Eastern Illinois, and coach Shane Beamer has been mum on who will start at quarterback. I expect to see Luke Doty return to action at some point in this game, but it’ll probably depend on whether Zeb Noland picks up where he left off against EIU; no need to rush back an injured starter if things are going well. It’ll be great to watch Kevin Harris back in action, and see how he reintegrates into the backfield after a strong performance by ZaQuandre White and some flashes from MarShawn Lloyd. Given the continuing uncertainty at quarterback, and the lack of a true standout at receiver at the moment, I assume the run game will be leaned on quite heavily — especially since App State had two 100-yard rushers against ECU. Tight ends Nick Muse and Jayheim Bell could be reliable safety blankets as well, given how well they played last week.

What happens when the Pirates have the ball? ECU has historically run a pass-first offense, and that hasn’t changed; Ahlers is a veteran quarterback who has an upset over North Carolina on his resume. If the Pirates are still unable to get run game going, they’ll be leaning even harder on their quick-strike passing attack. South Carolina’s defensive front has a big opportunity here, both in terms of stopping the run and getting to the quarterback, to set the tone early.

What are we wearing? According to Beamer earlier this week, the all-white “Stormtrooper” look will make its first appearance this season, and while there hasn’t been any confirmation from the official football accounts, I’d say it’s a safe bet.

How are we feeling about this? It’s hard to say! This is an incredibly important game to win for Beamer and the Gamecocks if they want to go legit this season. Beating ECU would match last year’s win total, as depressing as that is, and it’s simply a must to demonstrate that this team is moving in the right direction — especially since this Pirates group is not the giant-killers of years past and much more vulnerable than they’ve been in previous matchups with USC. This is a great opportunity to make a statement that the Gamecocks aren’t as deep in rebuilding hell as many likely assume. I do think USC can and probably will come away with a win here, but it’s tough to pinpoint how exactly I think it’ll play out.