South Carolina comes into this season with tons of optimism after the off-season coaching change and the hiring of new head coach Shane Beamer. This staff has injected new life into the program, and that has resonated throughout the fan base. Beamer has repeatedly said that this is not a long-term rebuild. The cupboard certainly isn’t bare, as the previous staff was able to recruit elite talent but was not able to turn recruiting into wins.
Coming into the season, there were a ton of questions surrounding the Gamecock program, especially after the loss of starting QB Luke Doty to a recent foot injury. One of the major areas of concern is the secondary after the loss of Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu to the NFL. While the competition may not have been SEC level, some of those concerns may have been alleviated. The secondary was able to intercept the Eastern Illinois quarterback on his first pass attempt of the night as a local product, Jaylen Foster of Duncan, SC, was able to turn a tipped pass into an INT and had a second interception for a touchdown negated by an offsides penalty. The defensive line also applied pressure throughout the game with several sacks and a 4th quarter interception for a touchdown by sophomore Jordan Burch.
Another focal point of “Beamer Ball” is special teams, and that was evident early as the Gamecocks blocked two punts in the first half, their first in several seasons. They also successfully converted on a two-point conversion with a pass to Nick Muse after their first scoring drive of the night. The offense had several bright spots, with the most noticeable being the play of Graduate Assistant turned starting quarterback Zeb Noland. The graduate student looked poised, completing four first-half passing touchdowns and 13/22 passes for the night with zero interceptions. Noland got the tight end position involved early, completing 2 of his four touchdowns to senior Nick Muse and freshman Jaheim Bell. The running game started off slow but began to warm up with several strong runs from ZaQuandre White and Marshawn Lloyd. The Gamecocks played three different running backs throughout the game, but we did not see last year’s SEC running champion, Kevin Harris, as he is still nursing an injury.
While it is certainly fair to say that expectations should be tempered given the level of competition South Carolina faced, there is still a lot to be proud of if you’re a Carolina fan. The offense moved the ball with ease, and the defense looked much improved. It will be interesting to see who the staff opts to move forward with a quarterback after the impressive performance from Zeb Noland. It may be too early to declare a QB controversy in Columbia, but Noland certainly isn’t going to go down without a fight after last night’s showing.
The Gamecocks will look to continue their impressive start to the season next week as they get their first road test against East Carolina in Greensboro.