Catch up on previous 2022 opponent previews!
I know I’ve outlined before how South Carolina and Missouri are nearly identical programs.
Both are states with 5+ million people and a few urban centers. Their respective student enrollment is only 5,000 off from each other. South Carolina was an expansion addition in the 90s; Missouri was an expansion addition in the 2010s. Both have some top-end football talent in their backyard but certainly cannot field a team based only on that homegrown talent. And both programs are going through a rebuild with a young, unproven head coach that can recruit their collective asses off.
Oh, and both impressed their respective fanbases in Year One.
Whereas Drink beat the defending national champs, kicked the Kentucky-sized monkey off of Missouri’s back, and once again beat Arkansas in 2020, South Carolina’s Shane Beamer beat the pants off of Florida and beat a supremely-talented/sleepy North Carolina team in their bowl game while hauling in a Top 25 recruiting class.
Just like Drink did with Odom’s guys, Beamer maximized the potential of Muschamp’s leftovers and turned it into momentum on the recruiting (and transfer portal) trail.
But up-and-down performance levels are common place in Columbia East. To wit, here’s South Carolina’s SP+ performance since 2005:
Steve Spurrier took over in 2005, overseeing an immediate rise and fall, then capitalized on some generational in-state talent to see another sustained rise paired with a dramatic collapse in 2015 when he quit halfway through the season. Will Muschamp was hired and rode out the collapse to build right back up in 2018, only to see another violent collapse that lead to his firing in 2020. So of course Beamer made an equally-dramatic jump in quality in one year; it’s what they do! The question of course is, “When does the fall come?” because, at South Carolina, it’s not “when” but “if”. Any coach can have a surprise run, but there just aren’t enough natural resources or financial support to sustain long-term success at this time (sound familiar, Mizzou folks?).
Here’s what South Carolina did last year:
I don’t want to dump all over a winning season but it is worth diving deeper into how exactly Cocky got to 7-6. The most effective way I can frame it is this:
- South Carolina vs. Opponents ranked 55th or worse: 5-1
- South Carolina vs. Opponents ranked 54th or better: 2-4
Keep in mind, the average SEC team is 11.6 points better than average - essentially a Top 25 team (and that counts Vanderbilt’s awful -19 SP+ score). South Carolina’s wins were over an FCS team, two middling G5 squads, Vanderbilt, and then scuffling Florida and Auburn squads. I’m not throwing stones, mind you; I’m aware that Drinkwitz hasn’t had the most impressive resume, either. It’s just worth pointing out that a coach can look amazing when he wins the games he should win, lose the games he should lose, and pounce on wounded teams.
Shane Beamer - 2nd Year - 7-6 (3-5)
The son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is a well-connected dude in the South and has leveraged those connections to great recruiting wins and tight staff cohesion. Truthfully, one of the most impressive things he’s done in my book is the fact that he held on to nearly his entire staff, losing only Erik Kimrey in his 16 months on the job. Does that mean good staff cohesion? Full buy-in to the head man and his plan? Proper compensation? All of the above? Regardless, Beamer has quickly built loyalty among the fans, made great pitches to recruiting prospects, and is building at least a vision of a good brand of football that could very well elevate South Carolina from the middle-bottom tier of the SEC...or just be a flash-in-the-pan if the recruiting doesn’t work out.
Marcus Satterfield - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks: 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. As a coordinator he’s never fielded even a competent offense and last year continued that trend. If he can find a quarterback - which, by all reports indicate, he absolutely has - then we might finally see what he wants to do while moving the ball.
Clayton White - Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers: I still wish Drinkwitz was able to grab this guy from Western Kentucky at the end of 2020, but alas, here we are. White was able to take a defense that was terrible at every facet of the game imaginable and turn it in a defense that was at least good at defending the pass. His Hilltopper defenses took a few years to gel, but when they did, they were a havoc-focused terror. Until proven otherwise, assume Cocky will get to that level in the near future.
Pete Lembo - Special Teams Coordinator
Montario Hardesty - Running Backs
Justin Stepp - Wide Receivers
Jody Wright - Tight Ends
Greg Adkins - Offensive Line
Jimmy Lindsey - Defensive Line
Sterling Lucas - Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers
Torrian Gray - Defensive Backs
Satterfield’s first SEC offense was similar to the Temple offenses he helped craft in 2013-2015: focused on an efficient running attack buoyed by an explosive passing game. The problem, of course, was that the Gamecocks were awful at running the ball and juggled three quarterbacks, none of which could reliably hit the deep ball. They were overly reliant on explosive plays through the air (34th) while ranking 80th or worse in most other offensive metrics. How much of that was the quarterback and how much of that was the fact that Satterfield has never put out a good offense? This year should help answer that.
Quarterback - Spencer Rattler - Redshirt Junior
You might have heard of this guy. Star of Netflix’s QB1. Sole owner of Arizona’s high school career passing record. Oklahoma starting quarterback in 2020. Victim of the Caleb Williams usurpation during the Texas game. And a transfer candidate the Drinkwitz staff was allegedly desperate to get on campus. Rattler will get a fresh start in Columbia East with a sky-high reputation and a great stat sheet to boot: career 70% completion rating, 40-12 TD-INT ratio, 6.5% sack rate, 4.9 yards per carry. He also shouldn’t have the threat of a highly rated elite-level blue chip backup quarterback waiting in the wings so the Gamecock faithful should be much more welcoming than the boot he got in Norman.
Running Back - MarShawn Lloyd - Redshirt Sophomore
Both Kevin Harris and ZaQuadre White are out of eligibility so the assumed starter heading in 2022 is former 5-star stud MarShawn Lloyd. Lloyd didn’t see many carries against Missouri last year (6 carries, 8 yards) but also didn’t do much on the year, finishing with 64 carries, 228 yards, 1 TD, on a middling 3.6 yards per carry. He’ll certainly get a chance to establish himself this year, however, as they didn’t sign any running backs out of high school while bringing in two middling transfers from the portal. The much more explosive JuJu McDowell could also see some extended time this year. It also helps that they return 7 of the 8 linemen who saw snaps last year.
Wide Receiver - Josh Vann - Graduate Student
Good news: Cocky returns 3 of their top 6 receivers. Bad news: 2 of those were tight ends and one was a running back. Worse news: 5 wide receivers and 2 tight ends transferred away. If the rotating cast of quarterbacks was throwing to somebody, they were throwing to Josh Vann who had an excellent 9.1 yards per target and a 57% catch rate. They do need some other receivers to step up, however, like Texas blue-chipper Landon Samson or transfers Corey Rucker (Arkansas State) and Antwane Wells (James Madison). Former blue chip Sooner tight end Austin Stogner could also come into play here. But, in theory, they finally have a quarterback to make the throws and now the receivers need to show up on their end to make this passing attack work.
Clayton White likes havoc-focused defenses with sticky coverage play and in his first year in Columbia he...didn’t have that. The Gamecocks were top 35 against the pass, which is good because they played close, jammed receivers, and dared quarterbacks to hit them over the top or shake a tackle and make a play. Unfortunately for them, opponents routinely did that. For good measure, South Carolina was 102nd against the run, which - I’d like to point out - was somehow worse than Missouri’s 87th ranking, and did okay in standard downs but completely crumbled in passing downs. The Gamecocks loaded up on four blue chip recruits in this most recent class - three of which are defensive backs - so the plan is in place to do what White wants, but maybe not this year, either.
Defensive Line - Zacch Pickens - Senior
South Carolina loses every defensive lineman that played more than 315 snaps on the year but does return big Zacch Pickens and his 7 TFLs and 4 sacks. Pickens was the second best at generating quarterback pressure on the team so his return should be a good piece to build some youth around. NC State transfer Terrell Dawkins will almost certainly be another starter, but with three other linemen transferring out and five freshmen coming in, the depth pieces of last year will need to step up to provide some meaningful snaps.
Linebacker - Brad Johnson - Graduate Student
Brad Johnson and Damani Staley were the only two linebackers who played more than 170 snaps on the year, and only Johnson returns. The Gamecocks carry a ton of linebackers on their roster (given the fact that they run a 3-4 and edge rushers are classified as “EDGE” it seems weird to carry 11 ‘backers but whatever) so there’s plenty of options to fill in for Staley, including incoming blue-chipper Nick Emmanwori.
Defensive Back - R.J. Roderick - Graduate Student
Jaylan Foster was the star of the ‘21 secondary but R.J. Roderick was its steady rock. Playing over 655 snaps, Roderick wasn’t the most disruptive but did log 60 tackles and a TFL last season. There are 20 DBs listed on the official roster and more than half are 4th-year players are older. Experience counts the most in the secondary but is this actual experience or just age? Regardless, the strength of last year’s defense should aim to maintain the first year gains and hope the front seven can develop to the point of not being a total liability.
So what does it all mean?
Missouri is 7-5 all-time against South Carolina but 2-3 against the Gamecocks in Columbia, SC. The series is oddly poetic as each team wins in streaks:
- Missouri: 1979, 2005
- South Carolina: 2012, 2013
- Missouri: 2014, 2015
- South Carolina: 2016, 2017, 2018
- Missouri: 2019, 2020, 2021
Missouri will be coming off of a tune-up against Vanderbilt while South Carolina will have just played Texas A&M at home. The Tigers and Gamecocks are almost perfectly matched historically - both far and near - and both are in the middle of a rebuild. Beating the Gamecocks helps push your team to the middle tier and that’s certainly what Drinkwitz is aiming to do. But just as Missouri fans feel optimistic (most of the time, lol), so too do South Carolina fans. This toss up game would be a huge gain for bowl eligibility in a season that’s looking like 5-7/6-6 so a win here would be an optimistic addition to a ‘22 campaign that, at this point, will quickly be coming to a close.