COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is back home after two road games to open the season.
With East Carolina coming to Columbia, we take a closer look at 5 key things for the Gamecocks on Saturday:
1. Find balance on offense
South Carolina averaged slightly more than a yard per carry against Mississippi State. But it has a chance to find some semblance of a run game against East Carolina, which is allowing 5.26 yards per rush.
The game plan against MSU was pretty simple. USC knew it could beat MSU on the perimeter, but it couldn’t run the ball enough or win up front enough to establish that threat of balance. Now, it has a matchup against an undersized defense that it should be able to grow against.
Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner has shown he has the ability to be a decent back in the SEC, but he can’t do it by himself. It will take a team effort. A change at quarterback also could give a needed jolt, as Brandon McIlwain has that ability in his repertoire.
Needless to say, anything is an improvement on 2.46 yards per rush through two games for South Carolina.
2. Start earlier
It was a key last week and it was not nearly achieved. It’s a key again this week.
The Gamecocks have yet to score in the first half of a game this season. Heck, getting near the red zone has been tough enough before halftime. It is something players talked about at length Tuesday and Will Muschamp has addressed, including postgame in Starkville. It’s not an offensive issue alone, however, as the defense sputtered mightily against the Bulldogs.
Maybe the excitement of a home opener ignites some first-half prowess.
3. New coach, same big numbers
East Carolina had big offensive numbers when Lincoln Riley (now Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator) was in town. They still do so far this season just with some different twists and an added dose of physicality.
It’s an offensive attack led by quarterback Philip Nelson (formerly of Minnesota and Rutgers), tailback James Summers (a former quarterback) and wide receiver Zay Jones. The Pirates are averaging 42.5 points through two games. The Gamecocks have faced two less dynamic offenses in their first two games. Finding a way to clean up tackling issues and generate a pass rush will be a must.
4. Stay healthy
It’s not something that can be controlled, but it could well be the most important thing in every game coming up. The Gamecocks already are down two offensive linemen for the next month. They also are without Chaz Elder for three-to-four weeks at safety — the one position above all USC could not afford to lose a player to injury.
Muschamp inherited a thin roster and injuries have left it thinner now.
5. Channel energy
The Gamecocks spent the first two weeks of the season on the road in SEC play. At last, they return to Williams-Brice to play in front of home fans for the first time this season.
And for the majority of the USC roster, it will be the first time they play in front of home fans in a game. Emotions will come with that. Nerves will ride along. Being overly excited is a possibility.
But the best things the Gamecocks can do is feel the energy of the crowd behind them and find a way to channel that into their play.