Scouting the South Carolina Gamecocks ahead of Saturday’s matchup

·8 min read

The Florida Gators are in dire need of some positivity. Coach Dan Mullen is now just 2-7 in his last nine games against Power Five teams after dropping two straight games to rivals. The team had a bye to prepare for No. 1 Georgia on Saturday, but it suffered a 34-7 drubbing to fall to 4-4 (2-4 SEC) on the season.

Luckily, the road does get easier for the Gators the rest of the way. They should be heavy favorites in their four remaining games, and that starts with a road trip to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday night.

The last time UF made the trek to Columbia, it was a rainy and sloppy football game that saw the team emerge with a 38-27 victory. But things have only gotten worse for the Gamecocks since then, and they currently sit at 4-4 as well but with a 1-4 conference record (and the win coming over Vanderbilt).

Here’s what you need to know about this South Carolina program.

Program Overview

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel

This is a USC program that hasn’t found a lot of success since joining the SEC alongside Arkansas in 1992. Though it won nine games with Lou Holtz at the helm in 2001, not much of note happened until legendary Gators coach Steve Spurrier took the job in 2005.

It took Spurrier a while to get things going, but he won the SEC East in 2010 and then rattled off three straight 11-win seasons from 2011-13. In the more than a century the program had existed prior to that, it had just one 10-win season.

However, the team fell off to 7-6 the following year and in the middle of a 3-9 campaign in 2015, Spurrier retired. He was replaced by another former Florida coach in Will Muschamp, who never really found sustained success in Columbia.

Muschamp went 9-4 in Year 2 in 2017, but that would prove to be the peak of his tenure. After a 2-5 start in 2020, Muschamp was fired by South Carolina with a 28-30 record.

It made a bit of a risky hire to replace him in Shane Beamer, son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. The younger Beamer had spent some time on his father’s staff, but he was most recently the assistant head coach and tight ends coach under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. Beamer is a first-time head coach, and it’s certainly fair to consider this a “Year 0” for him.

Passing game

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South Carolina quarterback Zeb Noland’s story is as cool as any you’ll see in college football this year. He began his career at Iowa State, where he saw limited action in his first two years before transferring to Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse North Dakota State.

Noland became the starter for the Bisons in the 2020 season (which was played this past spring), though he wasn’t particularly effective, completing just 51% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. His team went 7-3, a bit of a disappointing finish by NDSU standards.

Assuming his playing career was over despite one more year of eligibility, Noland headed to South Carolina to work as a graduate assistant. But when presumed starter Luke Doty went down with an injury in camp, the team was shorthanded at quarterback. Noland left the coaching staff to don a jersey and make use of his remaining year of eligibility.

He started the first two games of the season, including a win over Eastern Illinois in which he threw for four touchdowns in his debut. Doty returned in Week 3, but after starting the following four games, he suffered a season-ending injury, making it Noland’s show the rest of the way.

He has six touchdowns to one interception of the year, but aside from the opener, he hasn’t been very spectacular. And after suffering an injury in the last outing against Texas A&M that required a minor procedure, he is questionable for this week’s game.

If he isn’t able to go, South Carolina will turn to backup Jason Brown, another graduate transfer who had a very successful career with FCS St. Francis. Brown sparked an offense in the fourth quarter against the Aggies that had managed just 15 yards at that point.

Regardless of who plays, this is a Gamecocks offense that has been fairly anemic this year. It ranks 115th in yards per game (327.9), and its passing offense, which averages just over 200 yards per game, ranks 91st.

USC could also be down its third-leading receiver, as Jaylen Brooks has missed the last few games for undisclosed personal reasons. Beamer said Brooks, who has 181 yards and a touchdown on the year, is unlikely to play on Saturday.

Without him, UF should see a heavy dose of the team’s best receiver, Josh Vann, who has 431 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Tight end Jaheim Bell (247 yards, two touchdowns) has also been solid. Dakereon Joyner and E.J. Jenkins also figure to play roles in the passing game if Brooks is out once again.

Rushing game

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South Carolina may only have the No. 108 rushing game in the country, but it has found a very productive player in former JUCO running back ZaQuandre White. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 291 yards, and he’s managed that on just 42 carries, which works out to an average of nearly seven yards per carry.

Kevin Harris began the season as the top running back on the roster, and he still leads the team in carries with 70 and is second in rushing with 247 yards, but he’s since been supplanted on the depth chart by MarShawn Lloyd and Juju McDowell.

This group has a fairly experienced offensive line blocking for it, as every position is occupied by upperclassmen except for left guard Vershon Lee. The strength of this unit is the right side, led by senior right tackle Dylan Wonnum.

But per Beamer, Wonnum is questionable for the game against Florida with a back injury, and that would be a major loss for this unit.

The lines’ interior, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a strength, but it has a very solid center in redshirt senior Eric Douglas, who has been the starter for the last two years.

Front seven

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel

Defensively, South Carolina is a lot more solid. It ranks 39th in the FBS in that regard, but the front seven isn’t exactly the strength, as the team ranks just 87th against the run,

Still, this is a pass rush that gets after the quarterback, and that starts with BUCK Kingsley Enagbare. The team’s leader in sacks with 4.5, Enagbare also has 33 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery on the season.

Defensive tackle Zacch Pickens, the only non-senior starter in the front seven, is just behind him with 3.5, followed by defensive end Aaron Sterling with 2.5. Defensive tackle Jabari Ellis has 28 stops and a fumble recovery.

Meanwhile, the team has a very talented linebacker duo of redshirt seniors in Damani Staley and Brad Johnson. The latter is second on the team in tackles with 47 (including two sacks) while the former is just behind him with 40 tackles.

This is a veteran group, but Florida should be able to get back to its running success in this game.

Secondary

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The strength of this South Carolina defense (and the team in general) is its secondary. The Gamecocks rank 12th nationally against the pass, and that will likely make things a bit challenging for Anthony Richardson if he gets the nod for the second week in a row.

The real stars here are the safety duo, and one player, in particular, is having a phenomenal season: Jaylan Foster. He leads the team in tackles (65) and interceptions (five) and he has two sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. He’s a ballhawk who Florida will need to keep an eye on in the defensive backfield.

Beside him is R.J. Roderick, who entered the year with a bit more hype. He’s been very solid as well, totaling 33 tackles and two forced fumbles, but he’s been a bit overshadowed by Foster’s play.

At the cornerback spots, there’s Cam Smith and Darius Rush starting on the outside. Smith leads the team in pass breakups with eight by himself, while Rush has an interception and two pass breakups of his own. Starting at the nickel spot is David Spaulding, a sophomore transfer from Georgia Southern.

This group had a lot of question marks heading into the season, but it has surprisingly become the most consistent aspect of Beamer’s Year 1 team. Passing yards may not come easy on Saturday, and UF will likely lean heavily on the run game that has been so reliable this season.

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