Catch up on previous 2021 opponent previews!
So how was the football in Columbia, South Carolina in 2020?
Let’s put it this way: the only reason they weren’t the worst SEC team in the past 20-years (according to SP+) is because Vanderbilt ended up having a historically terrible season.
That’s right: if it wasn’t for the worst Power 5 team of all time existing in the SEC, South Carolina would have been the worst SEC team of 2020.
It wasn’t that long ago that Spurrier and the Gamecocks were beating Alabama with Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore or decapitating Michigan players with Jadaveon Clowney, J.T. Surrat, and Kelcey Quarles,
But that’s what Will Muschamp does, man: he takes something that should be fun and makes it un-fun, playing an ugly-looking offense that constantly plays it safe so his defense can wreck shop every time they’re on the field. It’s an underdog tactic that keeps almost every game close and Muschamp has the lovely tendency of gakking away close games.
Enter: Shane Beamer. The son of a legendary head coach, this career position coach might have been an unlikely choice but he’s already revitalized the energy around the program and working on modernizing every aspect of the Gamecock program.
He’s also working with one of the worst rosters in the SEC. Don’t forget that part.
Here’s what South Carolina did last year:
South Carolina beat Vanderbilt (because everybody did) and Auburn (because of course Muschamp randomly takes down a ranked opponent). Outside of a few close games against Tennessee and Missouri, the Gamecocks routinely got their doors blown off and really were dealt a blessing in disguise when they got to duck the UAB Blazers when the bowl game was cancelled. Now the chickens of Columbia East embark on a rebuilding project and (hopefully) realistic expectations on what the rebuild should be.
Shane Beamer - 1st Year - 0-0 (0-0)
Shane Beamer is mobbed up in the SEC mafia.
And I do mean that in a good way. Growing up with legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer as your dad, you get to meet a ton of influential players in the sport but you also grow up around players and staff who become coaches and administrators in the sport as well. Outside of his last three years in Norman, Beamer has spent his entire career in the south, from Atlanta to Knoxville to Starkville to Blacksburg and Athens. His connections in the coaching fraternity run super deep but he’s also very well respected among the high school coaches of the south. And this is where hiring Beamer makes sense: recruiting. Much like our esteemed nerdy salesman Eli Drinkwitz, Beamer has a knack for being an ace on the recruiting trail, bringing tons of energy and elite connections to catch the eye of elite talent and effectively selling them his vision. His first recruiting class was predictably s****y (because in the era of Early Signing Period, every new coach is going to have a total crap first recruiting class) but, as of July 12th, South Carolina’s 2022 recruiting class is one spot in front of Missouri. But just remember: Beamer is at the point where Drink was at last year with all the recruiting talent not even out of high school yet and having to work with the leftovers from the previous year’s disastrous season. We’ll see what his coordinators can do with those pieces but it’ll be a few years until the Beamer version of South Carolina is fully actualized.
Marcus Satterfield - Offensive Coordinator: Satterfield has coached almost every position on offense, from quarterbacks at the FCS level to running backs in the AAC to receivers and tight ends at the P5 level and offensive line in the NFL. And he managed to be the head coach at Tennessee Tech for two years. I’ll admit I’m not sure what kind of offense Satterfield wants to run here but I do know his 3-year tenure as Temple’s OC was a disaster: 71st, 124th, and 84th during his turn at the wheel. That probably doesn’t mean much in 2021 but I am curious a.) what he has to do with the pieces he has, and b.) what he wants to do once all the recruiting bears fruit
Clayton White - Defensive Coordinator: this was the dude I was loudly opining for to replace Ryan Walters this past offseason. A defensive backs coach by trade, White didn’t get a shot at being a defensive coordinator until he joined the Western Kentucky staff. In his four years in charge the Hilltopper defense went from 46th to 83rd in his first year, then to 93rd to 31st and then 37th last year. He’s creative and can build off of scraps...which is good since that’s basically what he’s inheriting for 2021. I expect good things as the years go on but certainly not this year.
Pete Lembo - Special Teams Coordinator
Montario Hardesty - Running Backs
Justin Stepp - Wide Receivers
Erik Kimrey - Tight Ends
Greg Adkins - Offensive Line
Jimmy Lindsey - Defensive Line
Mike Peterson - Outside Linebackers/Defensive Ends
Torrian Gray - Defensive Backs
In true Muschampian fashion, the offense freaking stunk last year: 92nd in passing the ball, 88th on Standard Downs, 77th in Passing Downs. Their only saving grace was a sophomore running back who was able to create chicken salad out of s*** on almost every carry he got, but if ‘Cocky couldn’t get yardage on the ground they were toast. They do return almost all of their offensive line and a lot of young guys started seeing the field as 2020 wound down. South Carolina faithful will hold on to hope that the late-season experience plus a new offensive system that embraces points and moving the ball can be enough to improve to competent levels of offensive skill.
Quarterback - Luke Doty - Freshman
If you don’t remember this guy let me give you a refresher: after being completely unable to move the ball for the 1st Half, South Carolina replaced struggling quarterback Collin Hill with freshman backup quarterback Luke Doty and, in true South-Carolina-backup-quarterback-playing-Missouri fashion, proceeded to ignite the Carolina offense, threatening to tie it up late in the game. Obviously the Tigers eventually prevailed but the young, Myrtle Beach product was able to be an equal threat through the ground and the air. He didn’t do much for the rest of the season (again, in true South-Carolina-backup-quarterback-versus-Missouri fashion) but was endorsed by Beamer after the spring game, saying Luke was their starting quarterback going forward. Blue-chip freshman Colten Gauthier was an early enrollee and took the majority of the 2nd-team snaps at quarterback, for whatever that’s worth. Doty needs to develop a deep-ball passing threat - the Gamecock offense was 117th in deep ball passes, throwing only 9% of their passes 20+ yards down the field - but the coaching staff says its something he’s working on and something they are confident will develop positively. Because of course they’re going to say that.
Running Back - Kevin Harris - Sophomore
Kevin Harris is awesome. The 1st Team All-SEC running back was, for all intents and purposes, the only consistent weapon the Gamecocks had all year and still was an unbeatable man beast. 185 carries at 6.15 yards per carry and 15 of South Carolina’s 29 total touchdowns for the year is a telling line for a talented running back who chose to stick around instead of hitting the transfer portal. He was stuffed 18% of the time which isn’t great and was merely pretty good running inside (5.4 yards per carry) and against a 7-man box (4.8 yards per carry) but that’s also partly because the line was so inconsistent. He really shone if he could bounce it outside, averaging 7.3 YPC off-tackle and damn-near 8-yards per carry on zone reads. If the line shows even a modicum of improvement and Doty can provide a downfield threat as well as a running threat Harris should be primed to shine once again.
Tight End - Nick Muse - Graduate Student
Sometimes you’re Texas A&M and you have a dominant tight end who leads the team in catches and yards because he’s such a dynamic receiving threat. Other times you’re South Carolina and a tight end leads the team in catches because the only other receiving threat on the team is now in the NFL. Such is the case with Muse, with his 42 targets, 30 catches, 425 yards and a touchdown in 2020. After Muse, the next returning receiver was Jalen Brooks, who didn’t play until the last 4 games of the season and only caught 11 balls on 32 targets. And the aforementioned Kevin Harris is the next returning receiver after that. So there’s a lot of room for growth, that’s the point I’m trying to make here. Backups Dakereon Joyner or Rico Power, Jr. have plenty of space to step up and demand targets, and incoming freshmen Sam Reynolds and superbly-named O’Mega Blake could also see some immediate time in the rotation. Regardless, someone needs to reliably catch the ball and a deep threat needs to develop for this passing game to improve.
While Muschamp’s final offense was the most extreme example of his perfect form, his defense was surprisingly terrible. Muschamp defenses thrive on shutting down the run and disrupting the passing game to create poor passes and easy turnovers; last year’s defense could do none of that. 98th against the pass, an abysmal 123rd against the run, 124th on Standard Downs, 100th on passing downs, 103rd in sack rate. They eliminated big plays on the ground and through the air but at the cost of letting offenses gain 3-4 yards on every single play. There is some legitimate talent on the line to be sure but a ton of turnover in the back seven; it could be another rough defensive year in Columbia East.
Defensive Line - Kingsley Enagbare - Junior
The 2nd-team All-SEC rush end was a great situational pass-rusher from his “BUCK” position, creating 17 QB pressures, 10 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. But if he wasn’t around the quarterback he wasn’t doing much else, logging only 13 total tackles for the season. It’s great to have a piece like that but a.) it’s unclear if the Beamer staff is keeping the 3-4 defensive scheme, meaning he might become a more traditional defensive end and b.) you’d like at least a little but more “routine production” instead of the all-or-nothing performance from 2020. Regardless, Enagbare is one of several returning defensive line pieces, a position group that looks to be the strength of the 2021 Gamecock defense.
Linebacker - Damani Staley - Graduate Student
Staley and current LA Ram Ernest Jones were the snap-count leaders at linebacker, as well as your proto-typical volume tackling inside linebacking machine. But while Staley tied for third on the team in tackles, no other linebacker had more than 7. Now, part of that is the fact that Muschamp ran a tight linebacker rotation with Jones and Staley rarely leaving the field but it does mean there’s not a ton of experience to replace an NFL-level talent. Staley is good but if he doesn’t get any help this is a potential weakness.
Defensive Back - R.J. Roderick - Junior
And now to the big weakness: of the 9 defensive backs to log more than 100 snaps in 2020, 5 return but the 4 who don’t were the top two tacklers and represent more than 60% of the passes broken up. Roderick will be the seasoned vet who will be breaking in career backups and some middling high school recruits. Remember, the Gamecock passing defense was pretty bad last year and now they’re starting over. They’ll need to get whipped into shape fast in order to avoid getting detonated by every competent passing team on their schedule.
So what does it all mean?
Well, you better beat South Carolina now because they were one of the worst P5 teams last year, lose a ton of production, and should have a boat load of elite reinforcements showing up in two years. Like I said above, the Gamecock coaching staff is one year behind our Tiger coaching staff in their rebuild, working through the scraps of a bad roster and a terrible recruiting class but scoring multiple wins on the recruiting trail.
Whether those recruits stick to that commitment when South Carolina is getting housed week after week is a question that can’t be answered but will be interesting to monitor. They get Georgia in Week 3, Kentucky right after that, and have Texas A&M as their permanent cross-division rival. They close out with Florida at home, then go to Missouri, then host a rebuilding Auburn before going to their bitter rival - and one of the best three teams in the nation - Clemson. You can talk yourself into five or six wins here but South Carolina schedule - featuring Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and Clemson every year - freaking sucks.
The Tigers get the Gamecocks at home right after they play Florida, for whatever that’s worth to you. I do think Mizzou is better than the Gamecocks right now but only because the Tigers have that first round of elite recruiting on campus. These teams only play close, weird games so expect the same for this year. But if Beamer and Drinkwitz continue to raise the recruiting bar at their respective schools, the Columbia rivalry could really start popping in the near future.