The Gamecocks will play Saturday for the first time this season without starting right tackle Mason Zandi, who sprained his ankle versus Florida. It’s noteworthy that this switches things up after relative health helped bring cohesion to the line. But more of a shock is the fact that freshman Blake Camper will take Zandi’s spot, not senior Mike Matulis.
“Blake’s ready to go out there and play,” coach Shawn Elliott said Tuesday. “We’ve got to turn him loose. He’s been in a backup situation all season long, he’s practiced second-team reps over and over and over again, he got in there on that touchdown play this past Saturday. He is very, very anxious to get in there and compete.”
Elliott’s decision to start Camper instead of moving Matulis from guard to tackle means the South Carolina staff feels comfortable with the freshman. Elliott said he has the utmost faith in Camper.
“He’s done well in practice, and now the opportunity is for him to go out there and play well,” Elliott said. “We’ll certainly evaluate each and every play over the course of the game and how he’s matching up, but I feel sure he’ll go out there and give it everything he’s got. I know he’s that type of person, and he is certainly out there going to prove this week and prepare to play the entire game.”
It must feel safe for Elliott to put the relatively untested Camper in the starting lineup since the Gamecocks face off against The Citadel on Saturday. He’ll have four quarters to settle into his starting role before South Carolina faces its biggest test of the season, a Nov. 28 meeting with No. 1 Clemson.
South Carolina’s offensive line hasn’t experienced much turnover this season. Left tackle Brandon Shell and Matulis have started all 10 games for the Gamecocks, as has right guard Will Sport. Camper will be South Carolina’s first starter at right tackle other than Zandi.