South Carolina heads to Fayetteville this weekend to take on a top 20 Arkansas team. The Gamecocks’ first SEC road test will tell us a lot about where Shane Beamer‘s team is in his second season. They got off to a solid start with a 35-14 victory over a tough Georgia State team this past Saturday. Despite the comfort in the final score, there are still plenty of things to work on for the garnet and black. The upgrade in competition will be significant in week two, therefore the improvements by South Carolina will need to be as well.
South Carolina Prepares for First SEC Road Test
Beamer’s team struggled in year one on the road, with a late field goal at East Carolina providing their only victory away from home. They have a stiff SEC road test in the Razorbacks as an early measuring stick. This program is trying to build itself into a consistent threat in the SEC, and winning on the road is crucial to that process. A winning start in conference play at a ranked opponent would make quite a statement.
Arkansas has really improved in the short tenure of Sam Pittman. A few seasons ago they were the doormat of the SEC West. They entered 2022 inside the Top 20 and beat a very good Cincinnati squad in their opener. K.J. Jefferson is a dynamic star at quarterback. He had over 220 yards passing and four total touchdowns against the Bearcats. The junior continues to improve with his passing ability, and he is one of the nation’s more dangerous players with the ball in his hands. The Gamecocks will have to contain him to have a chance.
Raheim Sanders had over 100 yards on the ground this past Saturday. The Razorbacks had over 200 yards rushing as a team. On defense, Arkansas is an opportunistic bunch, but there are some holes to exploit. The secondary struggled in week one, but they did force two turnovers.
The Gamecocks struggled on offense versus Georgia State. Their main issue was physicality. Problems along the offensive line were the easiest to point out, but they weren’t the only culprits. South Carolina tried to exploit some match-ups on the perimeter, but the blocking from their receivers was poor. Also, aside from Jaheim Bell, no one really broke many tackles either. Add in the subpar line play and its no wonder this offense couldn’t find consistency.
The defense also got off to a slow start, but they settled in well. They tackled really well and began to control the line of scrimmage more and more as the game went on. The defense will need to be even better against Jefferson and company. The offense has to protect better in the passing game and open more holes for the tailbacks. If they can’t step up to the challenge physically, the first SEC road test could be a long day.
Despite not getting the best protection upfront, Spencer Rattler looked solid in his Gamecock debut. His presence and awareness in the pocket stood out. He always appeared calm even when the pocket was collapsing around him. For the most part, his decision-making was good all night, and the arm talent is evident immediately.
As he grows more comfortable in the offense, his reads and decisions should continue to improve. The one drawback to his debut was the few times he got too aggressive instead of taking the easy completion. One of those decisions resulted in an interception and they missed on a few third-down conversions as well. Rattler was very good with his scrambles, both in gaining yards and throwing on the run.
Make a Statement
Rattler was able to connect on a few big plays to Jalen Brooks. That connection could be a factor on Saturday. There are big plays to be had against the Razorbacks, as Cincinnati showed in the opener. South Carolina will need to give their quarterback time, but if they do some big plays could follow. The Gamecocks need to connect on some of those opportunities if they want to pass their first SEC road test.
Beamer’s team has a chance to turn some heads this weekend. Defeating a ranked Arkansas team on the road would make the rest of the conference take notice. They will need to play far better though. There were plenty of positives to take away from week one. The big plays on special teams and solid performance on defense are the most prominent. However, the Razorbacks will be a big step up in talent and ability. The old notion that teams improve most between weeks one and two will need to hold true if the Gamecocks want to start 2-0.
Main Image courtesy: Sam Wolfe/Special To The State