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2023 Recap and the State of the Gamecocks Program

Gamecocks state of the program

South Carolina has played three full seasons with Shane Beamer as the head coach. He is 20-18 overall in Columbia with a .500 record in bowl games. Perhaps a more interesting number is his 10-14 record in SEC play over three seasons. It’s low-hanging fruit to compare Beamer to previous Gamecock’s coaches. In fact, the fans should care more about the state of the program overall. The differentiation must be made between individual seasons and the overall program. Of course, 5-7 is not the mark any Gamecocks fan wanted in 2023. However, the state of the program after year three is not wholly reliant on one season. 

The real question of evaluating the Gamecocks program’s state is based on expectations, making it a moving target. One media outlet or section of the fanbase can set expectations at a completely different mark than another. To narrow the focus, we will look at major successes and areas that still need improvement against a national backdrop. Three major elements make up the program: players, coaches, and culture. 

The Guys On The Field

College football is a player’s game. Without the guys on the field, nothing happens. No matter the level of coaching and preparation, play-calling, and adjustments, players must make plays on the field to excel in the only category that matters: winning. Looking at the Gamecocks roster prior to any portal moves, there are some standout inflection points. At the point of transition from Will Muschamp to Beamer, the talent level was not awful, but Beamer has the blue-chip ratio (amount of four and five-star players) up to 48%. This is only two points shy of the 50% mark that every national champion has hit this millennium. 

Offense

Spencer Rattler was the most talented, highest-rated quarterback in the history of the school. Poor offensive line play plagued him, but help is on the way in the form of Josiah Thompson and Kam Pringle. Add those highly-ranked recruits to the talented O-line group that has an entire off-season to get healthy, and the protection looks much better for 2024. Skill positions on offense need improvement, but the program continues to put high-level receivers into the NFL. This year it’s Xavier Legette. In 2024, a healthy Juice Wells is the focal point. Running back is a major question mark as the staff has missed on this position in high school and portal recruiting under Beamer. Finally, tight end, a position Beamer coached before becoming Carolina’s head man, has had constant talent, and difference-makers are in place for 2024 as well.

Defense

From a defensive talent standpoint, the line of scrimmage is the glaring low point. After a historic season from linebacker Debo Williams and a late surge from Bam Martin-Scott, the linebacking core is intact for 2024, with both returning. The secondary will feature seasoned juniors in the safety position and continue to recruit cornerbacks at a high level. The talent in these positions is not lacking. Along the line of scrimmage, improvement needs to be made, even if Carolina’s top guys all choose to return. Defensive line coach Travian Robertson just finished his first season in the position and needs to bring in big bodies for 2024. At the edge, the Gamecocks lose experience as older players run out of eligibility, but five-star edge Dylan Stewart is a major piece of the 2024 class. Undoubtedly, the defense needs to improve, but at least in the back seven, the talent is not the issue. 

The Guys on the Sidelines

Coaching is a hot topic in the South Carolina fanbase. For the Gamecocks, the state of the program has been pinned on coaches for the most part. While it is true that the head coach has to bear the responsibility for the ups and downs of the team, any rational person can acknowledge that certain unfortunate events are out of the coach’s control. For example, injuries in 2023 caused significant difficulty executing on the field. In fact, coaches changed schemes and personnel to accommodate the injuries, but they could not be fully overcome. 

Coaching Successes

Without question, Dowell Loggains did not have a good game against Clemson to end the season. No one on the offensive side of the ball had a good game. But if the season-long body of work is considered, the overall coaching job done by this offensive staff was pretty impressive. Down 11 offensive linemen, six lost for the season, the primary skill player injured for 95% of the snaps, and a lack of running backs made the job on Saturdays beyond difficult. Loggains brought a lot to the table in terms of quarterback development and personnel usage. In his final postgame presser, Rattler commented that he had learned so much about the game from Loggains. 

Additionally, Lonnie Teasley continues to recruit at a high clip, with two top-level offensive tackles headed to Columbia. His group will have a turnaround in 2024 if they can remain healthy. Justin Stepp deserves credit as well. An athletic but little sought-after receiver (Legette) developed from dropping the ball to maximizing his talent for the second most productive season in school history. 

Defensively, Clayton White, whose seat may be the hottest in the program, made a major scheme change, with three games remaining in the season, that likely saved his job. The switch to a 3-3-5 allowed for more athleticism on the field. The change also resulted in more stops and turnovers for the Gamecocks. White also coaches linebackers, which was by far the most improved defensive position group from 2022 to 2023. 

Coaching Failures

There is a lack of development in the running back room, which is cause for concern. DJay Braswell flashed some as a freshman, but he is the only notable running back recruit that Montario Hardesty has landed in three seasons. In the 2024 class, commit Matthew Fuller is on the rise, according to his 247Sports Composite ranking. But the big fish, Daniel Hill, may prove to be another “one that got away” as Alabama is trending for the Meridian, MS product. Hardesty has also shown little ability to develop the backs on the team into better players. Natural increases in strength and speed have occurred due to multiple years in a college lifting program, but skills as a running back have not drastically improved for anyone. 

White made a successful scheme change; however, the total three-year body of work shows that his defenses have worsened yearly. The lowest average point total allowed was 29 in his first season with the Gamecocks. He has to continue on the trajectory of the last three games to succeed in Columbia. If the Gamecocks cannot lower that point total in 2024, they will likely not make a bowl game once again. Beamer could be inclined to go ahead and make a change now if he feels keeping White will prolong the inevitable. In 2022, the state of the program for the Gamecocks hinged on a coordinator move, which could be the case in back-to-back years. 

Family Matters

The overall state of the Gamecocks program cannot be addressed without discussing the cultural changes that have been made during the Beamer era. Fans are tired of “sunshine pumping” and being told to “find some joy” when the wins have not always delivered. But the state of the fanbase and the program are two different discussions. We are here to discuss football. The football program is in a much more healthy state under Beamer than it has been in decades. The love for one another and the desire to show up and fight for one another is evident. The team continued to fight through an adverse season. Most notably, the locker room was not lost when a 2-6 record looked bleak. This is a testament to the culture.

The positive culture and encouraging atmosphere make a difference in recruiting as well. Although NIL now reigns as the top factor in many recruiting battles, the former occupant of the throne, comfort level, still plays a role. Parents and players alike continue to rave about what Beamer and the staff can bring in terms of personal development to accompany opportunities on the field. 

The Outlook

South Carolina and their head coach are at an inflection point. The state of the Gamecocks program is not as gloomy as a 5-7 record in 2023 may allude. However, changes and improvements are necessary in the off-season. Wins on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal are essential to continuing to turn the cruise ship that is an SEC football program. The schedule in 2024 will do South Carolina no favors. Our early projection is that seven wins is a great success. 2025 is the year to make a big jump. The Gamecocks can make a run at the 12-team playoff with veteran leadership and more established depth. Fans must be patient while the crockpot simmers and stop trying to microwave success. More realistic expectations will lead to more satisfaction with results. 

 

Gamecocks state of the program
Photo courtesy: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

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