A week before facing archrival Alabama, the Tigers will travel 319 miles northeast to Williams-Brice Stadium to face a South Carolina team rebuilding under first-year head coach Shane Beamer. The Tigers will be looking for revenge after suffering their first road loss to South Carolina last season and only their second loss in series history.
The Gamecocks will be looking to make a splash in the SEC East after having a miserable season last year that saw the team finish 2-8.
The Gamecocks' offense wasn’t horrible in 2020 but it was not fun to witness either. South Carolina was able to generate somewhat of a run game but not much else. The offense was also plagued with injuries as running back MarShawn Lloyd went down with a torn ACL.
The offense this season will be hard to predict as the Gamecocks have been a rotating door of transfers and injuries. The offense should be anchored around the four returning starters along the offensive line as well as leading rusher Kevin Harris. The junior ran for 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and if Lloyd is healed enough to contribute, expect the Gamecocks to have a formidable running duo this season.
The biggest question mark will be at the quarterback position. With Ryan Hilinski transferred to Northwestern, and 2020 leading passer Colin Hill lost to graduation, Luke Doty looked poised to take over the starting position, until he went down with a foot injury in fall camp. With only two weeks of fall camp left, expect someone other than Doty to take the season’s first snap for the Gamecocks.
Currently, Colten Gauthier and Jason Brown are the frontrunners. Neither quarterback has taken a snap for South Carolina.
Just like the offense, the defense is a bit of a puzzle for South Carolina heading into this year. While the Gamecocks had plenty of NFL talent last season, they still gave up an average of 36 points per game and much of that talent is gone.
The defensive line is expected to be strong, and it needs to be to operate in defensive coordinator Clayton White’s 4-2-5 defense. South Carolina returns their leading sack artist, Kingsley Enagbare, who had six sacks last season. He will be joined by Georgia State transfer Jordan Strachan, who should provide depth and experience along the line. The front four will need to generate a pass rush in order to help out a rebuilding secondary, and likely the success of the Gamecocks defense hinges on their ability to generate a pass rush with the front four.
The key player on offense will be tight end Nick Muse. The junior tight end was a key contributor in the passing game last season with 425 yards receiving and a lone touchdown — the second best of the team. With leading pass catcher Shi Smith off to the NFL, and a new quarterback in the pocket, it will be up to Muse to play a key role in the passing game. The running game should be solid, but South Carolina won’t be a formidable offense without a solid passing game.
On defense, the key player will likely be senior safety Jaylan Foster. Foster finished fourth on the team in total tackles with 43 last season. With the secondary rebuilding it will be up to Foster’s leadership, or lack thereof, that makes or breaks the Gamecocks secondary.
For South Carolina to have success on offense in 2021, they need to do a better job protecting the quarterback. The offensive line finished last in the SEC last season, allowing 78 tackles for loss and 27 sacks . With four offensive line starters returning, this should improve, but with an entirely new offensive scheme, it remains to be seen how well they improve. If they don’t, it will be a long year for South Carolina.
On defense, the Gamecocks need to force the pass rush. The defense only had 14 sacks all season but the first 10 of those came within the first four games, two of which they won. With more talent along the line than last year, they are running out of excuses not to be a dominant force to be reckoned with along the line.
The Bulldogs are led by head coach Shane Beamer, who is in his first season not only as the coach of South Carolina but his first season as a head coach ever. Beamer began his coaching career in 2000 as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech and then Tennessee. He coached the cornerbacks at Mississippi State for two seasons before switching over on offense to coach the running backs in 2006.
The following year he coached outside linebackers at South Carolina and over the next three seasons would coach the cornerbacks and special teams. From 2011-2015 he was the running backs coach at Virginia Tech before becoming the tight ends/special teams coordinator at Georgia Tech. In 2018 he became the tight ends and H-back coach at Oklahoma, where he stayed until receiving the South Carolina job offer this season.
Both Auburn and South Carolina are expected to have dynamic running back duos this season. South Carolina will struggle early on with finding themselves as they attempt to replace so many moving parts and learn a new head coach's scheme. However, the Tigers play them late in the season, and will need to be on their guard to avoid a repeat upset in Williams-Brice Stadium.