Ahead of Tennessee’s matchup with South Carolina, the Daily Beacon talked with The Daily Gamecock’s Co-Sports Editor Michael Sauls who broke down the Gamecocks and things to keep an eye on, on Saturday.
Question: What’s the quarterback situation like at South Carolina? Luke Doty has been fine but not great in a few games off an injury. Is South Carolina sticking with him for the time being?
Answer: “Out of the spring, Doty was the starter. And then obviously he got hurt, so we pulled Zeb Noland from the grad assistant team to come in and start a couple of games. And then Doty came back after Zeb got hurt. Last game, Luke had I think three career-highs in the passing game, which I think is kind of funny because people think he’s a seasoned veteran. Last game was his fourth start ever. Beamer’s stressed it multiple times in press conferences, he’s still learning, he’s still getting comfortable. He’s coming off a broken foot. I think the more comfortable he gets, the better he’ll be in general.”
Q: How would you evaluate Shane Beamer’s first season at South Carolina so far?
A: “I think the team has definitely rallied around him. I’ve told a lot of people there’s definitely a culture change going on. And it’s not just something people around the program are noticing, people around the country are. When SEC Nation came down here, Jordan Rogers, Tim Tebow and Ryan McGee all spent at least 10 minutes talking about the culture change going on. It’s definitely true. If you think about it, South Carolina’s already beat their win total from last year. Granted, it’s still early in the season and three wins isn’t exactly what South Carolina is shooting for. But Beamer’s a personable guy, a stand-up guy that players like and fans gravitate towards in terms of his infectious personality. You’ve got to be able to translate a culture change to wins, but that doesn’t happen right away.”
Q: Who are the biggest playmakers on South Carolina’s offense? How has the group adjusted to the loss of a receiver like Shi Smith?
A: “It’s crazy to think that at one point, South Carolina offense had Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel, Shi Smith and Josh Vann all in the wide receiver room. Deebo left, and Bryan became the guy. Bryan left, and Shi became the guy. Shi’s left, and now Josh is the guy. It’s a testament to all of them for being patient, sticking it out and waiting for their turn. And Josh has certainly turned up like he never has this year. I think he already brought in almost half of his catches just in the first two games than his entire career here. They return the SEC’s leading rusher. It’s just a matter of they’ve got to find a way to jell.”
Q: South Carolina’s defense might be a little better than they get credit for. What can you say about what Jaylan Foster and that group has done?
A: “The defense has played way better than I thought they would. They lost big guys in terms of Israel Mukuamu, Jaycee Horn. Even this year with Sherrod Greene going down, he had fought back from another injury. And, it was supposed to be his year taking over the helm of the linebacker corps, and he got hurt again. But what Clayton White has been able to do was phenomenal. Will Muschamp was supposed to be this huge defensive guru mind, and he could barely do anything with a more talented South Carolina defense than the one Clayton White has turned into one of the better SEC defenses this year. Jaylan Foster was a walk-on. And now he leads the country in interceptions. It’s been awesome just to watch him play. The defense in general had been fun to see the improvement. They’ve overachieved my expectations as a defensive unit as a whole. If they keep playing the way they’ve been playing, then they’ll put South Carolina in many more situations to win ball games this season and in the future.”
Q: Troy played the Gamecocks a lot closer than they probably wanted, and the inability to finish drives was a major part of that. What’s been the reason for that, and how do they fix it?
A: “They’ve got to be able to capitalize on things. They’ve come so close so many times. It’s bound to happen at some point for them to finally get going in terms of finishing drives. It’s almost painful to watch in the press box, knowing they’re probably not going to finish out a drive. They’re always one or two plays away. They’ll be right there, then they’ll have a dumb holding penalty or false start. Last game against Troy, Kevin Harris had like a 30-yard reception, and two plays later it had gone 30 yards backwards because of two back-to-back penalties. So a lot of it is shooting themselves in the foot. But I do think it’s a matter of time before South Carolina can finally get it together, because I think they’re close.”