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The Ruthlessly Efficient Preview Of South Carolina

NCAA Football: SEC Media Day Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our ruthlessly efficient previews of Bulldog early season opponents with the first SEC non-rival to grace the schedule, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Gamecock File

Head coach: Shane Anaxandridas Beamer

Home stadium: Williams-Brice Open Air Pavillion and Horse Park ((77, 559)

2022 record: 8-5 (4-4)

Key fact #1: It (gestures toward Columbia) may not be a fluke.

Shane Beamer is 17-11 at South Carolina after two seasons on the job and has led the Gamecocks to two consecutive bowl games. Once is an occurrence, twice is a pattern, albeit one borne out of a mighty small sample size. But the fact remains that the number of coaches who have led South Carolina to back-to-back bowl games is small, and the number who have done it in their first two seasons on the job is two: Beamer and Steve Spurrier.

In Spurrier’s third season in Columbia the Sporty Chickens went 6-6. 3-5 in the SEC, and did not go bowling. So if Beamer the Younger can get to the postseason this year, he will quite literally be the most successful head coach in South Carolina history, at least by one arbitrary metric.

Key fact #2: Still shaking, Rattlering, and rolling.

Spencer Rattler returns at quarterback for the Fightin’ Beamers after throwing for 3012 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2022. Those are good numbers. You don’t have to pump those numbers up in this business. But you do need to avoid throwing 12 interceptions, the number Rattler threw in 2022. Perhaps worse, Rattler had a tendency to cluster those picks, with four separate games in which he threw 2 interceptions (Georgia State, Georgia, South Carolina State, and Clemson). He threw for over 230 yards in only one of the four (360 against Clemson).

Improbably, South Carolina won 3 of those 4 multi-pick games. I can’t fully explain how, other than to say that perhaps the threat of the former top quarterback recruit in the nation uncorking throws loosened up defenses a bit. But this also lends some credence to what those who watched Rattler at Oklahoma suspected: he’s a quarterback for whom interceptions are a feature, not a bug. Just part and parcel of the whole package. If Rattler is good for one turnover a game again in 2023 the Gamecocks will need production in other places to avoid going backwards offensively. Speaking of…

Key fact #3: The Gamecock rushing attack is a bit of a mystery.

Gone from 2022 are leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd (573 yards on 111 Carrie’s) and second leading rusher Jaheim Bell (261 yards on 73 carries). Junior Juju McDowell is the team’s leading returning producer, with 62 carries for 219 yards in 2022.

To top that off the ‘Cocks had only two scholarship running backs in spring practice and at one point had former quarterback turned receiver Dakereon Joyner to taking snaps at tailback. So while someone may emerge to take some heat off Rattler, there aren’t a lot of candidates. And if McDowell goes down new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggain (who comes over from Arkansas) May be up the Saluda without a paddle.

Key fact #4: The defense isn’t much more of a known quantity.

The good news for Coach Beamer is that his defense returns solid players in the secondary including Marcellus Dial (45 tackles, 3 interceptions), David Spaulding, and 2022’s leading tackler Nick Emmanwori. On the flip side, the bad news is that the Garnet and Black defense returns only four starters overall.

But the good news on the other side of that coin is that the Gamecocks were tragihorrific against the run last year (13th in the SEC at 198 yards allowed per game) and most of the players who left in the front seven were the ones responsible for that.

The bad news on the other side of that (this is the fourth side of this coin for those keeping track, but we’re committed to the metaphor now and not going back) is that there are some unproven, untested guys being counted on to rectify that. Tonka Hemingway returns at tackle after recording 33 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in 2022.

All told, if the Gamecocks can’t find a way to defend the run better than they did in 2022 Spencer Rattler could throw for a billion yards and it won’t matter.

Key fact #5: The line between 8-5 and 5-7 is thinner than the crowd at the Columbia public library.

Teams like South Carolina, Vandy, and Kentucky live in a precarious place. They can improve from year to year, yet have a worse record simply because of the fickle whims of the scheduling gods. This season the Colombian Chickens get five teams currently ranked in the top 25, including Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas A&M on the road. That’s to say nothing of an opening week cross border contest with #21 North Carolina or the usual season finale with #9 Clemson. Add in a trip to Mizzou, a home date against Florida, the usual weird and unpredictable matchup with Kentucky, and the ‘Cocks may need some mojo and/or voodoo to make it to seven wins.

One of them is unlikely to come in Athens on September 16th, though I expect it to be the first real test of the young season.

Score prediction: Georgia 34, South Carolina 13.

Go ‘Dawgs!!!