College football season is coming like a crashing defensive end. Your Georgia Bulldogs will open the season on September 2nd, and between now and then we’ll be previewing every opponent, and today with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecock File
Location: Columbia, SC
Head Coach: Will Muschamp, 2nd season (34-28 overall Head Coaching record, 6-7 at South Carolina)
2016 record: (6-7, 3-5 SEC Conference play)
Game Time: Saturday, November 4, time TBA. (Side note: This could be the ESPN2 7:30 game, the night game on SEC, or a noon kickoff. The LSU/Alabama game will likely be the CBS game and the other SEC games will be Florida/Missouri, Auburn/A&M, and Ole Miss/Kentucky)
Fun fact: Famous alumni of USC East include Charlie Weis (yep, M.A. 1989), some Blowfish and a Hootie, US Senator Lindsey Graham, and likely Kenny Chesney (checks obscure ESPN program guide… yep, USC is one of his 23 favorite teams). South Carolina is also a leading public research institution – reports say still in development for consumer use is “Clowney Gas”.
South Carolina is the SEC team you don’t want to play this late in the season. If we have survived relatively unscathed up to November, with the South’s Oldest Rivalry creeping into the upcoming travel itinerary, and coming off who knows what kind of Jacksonville hangover… this could easily be the WTH game we all Munson.
Most would agree that Steve Spurrier did not leave the South Carolina football recruiting cupboard fully stocked when
Schottenheimer hung half a hundred on him using Greyson Lambert he left USC and rode into the sunset. Coach Muschamp has decidedly taken on recruiting as one of his mandates and pulled in the #21 class in 2017, including top 100 recruit Jamyest Williams from Loganville, GA. And Coach Boom is working his way through the Spurrier inheritance, as the Gamecocks graduated quite a few players on defense.
But they return 10 starters on offense. And David Cutcliffe devotee’ Kurt Roper is the Offensive Coordinator blessed with this returning talent. Roper has had success developing quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Thad Lewis, Sean Renfree) and he has a definitive #1 signal caller in sophomore Jake Bentley. The Gamecocks had some turmoil under center last season, then Bentley emerged as the clear starter midway through the season, racking up over 1,400 yards, 9 TDs against only 4 picks in a mere 7 games.
They ranked 83rd in the country in total offense last year, but that includes before Bentley took over. And they return 97% of the 2016 receiving yards. They have a duo of 6’3” 215 lb. wide outs in sophomore Bryan Edwards and true freshman OrTre Smith (big wideouts scare me, /glances towards Oxford), and the 2nd leading receiver is the big tight end Hayden Hurst. The biggest threat assuredly will be from all-everything wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Even missing 3 games last season, and hindered in a 4th with a hamstring issue, Samuel finished 3rd in the conference in receptions per game, 3rd in kickoff return average, and 2nd in all-purpose yardage. Oh, and he had 6 rushing TDs to boot. (Captain Obvious Spoiler Alert: This is one of 3 Things That Worry Me).
The running back stable is pretty good too. 2016 leading rusher Rico Dowdle is the real deal at 5’11” and 220 lbs. He twice carried 27 times in a game, and racked up over 200 yards in one contest (vs. Western Carolina). With all but the 2016 left tackle returning on the offensive line, I expect Dowdle to be extremely productive.
Nonetheless we all know Coach Boom is well-versed on the defensive side of the ball. The former Georgia team captain and Secret Agent is surely on his way to coaching up the boys in this regard. The Gamecocks finished middle of the pack nationally in total defense during Muschamp Year One, yet now get back the services of Skai Moore. Moore led the team in tackles his first 3 years before a medical redshirt sidelined him in 2016. Now he’s back in the linebacking core and had good reports from camp. SC lost 2 defensive ends, but did enroll a few including highly touted JUCO transfer Javon Kinlaw. The 6’6” Kinlaw is listed anywhere from 310-340 lbs, though his exact weight seems like recording deck chair configurations on the Titanic.
The coaching staff is mostly intact, with Eric Wolford as the only new face, but did have a previous stint at SC, and is returning to coach the offensive line. They did lose both starting kicker Elliott Fry (who was a real weapon) and punter Sean Kelly.
To close it up, this can be a dangerous team. We get them much later in the season than normal. By this time, they will have finished the SEC schedule (their West opponents are Arkansas and traveling to Texas A&M), and faced 2 of their non-conference opponents Louisiana Tech and NC State (Belk Kickoff Classic), but yet to face Wofford and Clemson to close out their regular season. So we should have a better idea if the Gamecocks are returning to Spurrier-era glory or staying in the bottom of the SEC East.
The game is in Athens this year, and played on an actual Saturday (hurricanes notwithstanding), so that should be in our favor. And by this time in the schedule, our Freshmen will be either game-tested or red-shirted, so we should know what to expect from a revamped O-Line under Sam Pittman, play-calling under Jim Chaney, and almost 2 full years of Kirby Smart learning the DB’s. On paper we have more talent and more depth. Will this be a Georgia victory circa 2015 where Greyson Lambert set NCAA passing records in a surgical dismantling of South Carolina? Or will it be reminiscent of 2016 where we have to rely on our running backs and Carolina’s mistakes to finish off the Gamecocks? We’ve shown we can handle them either way.
GlimmerTwinDawg prediction: UGA 34, SC 19
And as always…