South Carolina refuses to do things the easy way, but they have still managed to win four in a row after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday. It was the first win in the series for the garnet and black and pushed their record to 5-2 on the season. For the second straight game Shame Beamer’s team got off to a red-hot start and made just enough second-half plays to hold on. The Gamecocks’ momentum is building in the 2022 season, but there is still a long way to go. The schedule sets up well for the next few weeks, but this team still must prove it can handle success.
Gamecocks Momentum Starting to Build
Saturday night was a wild one in Columbia. The crowd was electric before kickoff and was downright explosive by the end of the first quarter. A 102-yard Xavier Legette kickoff return, a Darius Rush interception, and a Tonka Hemingway fumble recovery all in the first 7 minutes had the crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium teetering on mania. The Gamecocks’ momentum stalled for the rest of the half, but two second-half touchdown drives were enough to secure the program’s first win over Texas A&M. The Missouri Tigers come to town this week. South Carolina will look to extend its longest winning streak since 2013 to five in a row.
This team has now gotten the losing to Kentucky and losing to Texas A&M monkeys off their back with consecutive victories. Now they have another negative trend to shake; falling flat when things are going well. South Carolina snuck into the AP Top 25 at number 25 thanks to their winning streak. They must show they can now handle success and not lose the focus or intensity that has helped turn this season around. A year ago, the Gamecocks had a huge win over Florida then traveled to Missouri the next week and laid an egg. It just so happens that those same Tigers are the opponent this weekend after Gamecocks’ momentum has started to grow. Beamer must have his team focused and hungry to continue their success. They can’t afford to slip up, especially in the first SEC game they will be favored in all season.
Primaries in the Secondary
For the first time all season on Saturday, the Gamecocks had all their top defensive backs available for the game. At full strength, this group is both very skilled and versatile. After David Spaulding took the spotlight at Kentucky, it was Rush ’s turn versus the Aggies. He had an interception on their first drive that he returned inside the 10-yard line. He was good in coverage all night with a few pass breakups and made a few plays on special teams. Rush was named the SEC’s defensive player of the Week for his performance.
Cam Smith was the unit’s headliner coming into the season, and he has played as well as expected. Marcellus Dial has rotated in at corner to good effect as well. The freshmen pairing of Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith has earned praise and playing time at safety since the season opener. Devonni Reed rounds out the safety rotation. Having all these guys available will be a luxury for coordinator Clayton White the rest of the way. This group has six of the team’s SEC-leading nine interceptions.
While the special teams have gotten plenty of praise for its effect on games so far this year, most of that has been about the NCAA leading five blocked punts. Those have all been huge plays, but it’s not the only part of that group that has been special. Leggette broke out the big kickoff return this week to add more excitement to that phase of the game. However, more attention should be shown to the Gamecocks’ pair of kickers. Kai Kroeger and Mitch Jeter have both been excellent in 2022. Kroeger is in the top 20 nationally in average per punt. He has been a model of consistency and has made a habit out of dropping punts down inside the ten-yard line. Jeter is in his first season kicking after taking over for the school record breaker Parker White. Jeter has yet to miss a field goal and has hit two from beyond 50 yards. It is a luxury to have such reliable contributors in the kicking game.
Caution; Slip Hazard
The Gamecocks’ momentum that has been built over this four-game winning streak has the fans and program energized for the first time in quite a while. The one thing they can’t do is slip up this weekend. Missouri is not having a good season. However, they will come in on the back of their first SEC victory over Vanderbilt. The Tigers are 12th in the conference in total offense but sit at fourth in total defense. Like South Carolina, they have forced 11 turnovers. That could be a big key in a game with two offenses that have struggled for consistency. Who can take care of the ball and force the opponent into mistakes will likely determine the outcome.
The Gamecocks need to use the energy of what should be another rowdy crowd to keep from a complacent or sluggish performance. Beamer’s program is starting to prove it can have success, now they must prove they can handle and sustain it.