COLUMBIA, S.C. — Finally at home and finally out of conference.
South Carolina has its first nonconference game and its first home game at 4 p.m. ET Saturday against East Carolina.
We take a closer look at the matchup:
When South Carolina is on offense …
The quarterback decision appeared logical the past two games: Start Perry Orth. It appears logical again: Start Brandon McIlwain.
The freshman quarterback made enough plays in the second half at Mississippi State to earn a start now. Assuming that is the case, South Carolina will have a good opportunity to get its ground game back to life. A.J. Turner has shown flashes, but the offensive line has to elevate its play. Throwing McIlwain into the mix as another rushing threat will help the overall attack.
Facing a smaller front from ECU – and a 3-4 – gives the Gamecocks a chance to get in the work on the line that it needs.
One of the most interesting elements to come from the loss at Mississippi State was the increased role of the tight ends in the offense. That should continue as they provide a nice addition to the passing game, as the wide receivers continue to develop.
Finding out if McIlwain can give a first-half jump start to an offense that has been lacking a pulse before halftime will be something to watch.
Key matchup: South Carolina rushing attack vs. ECU front seven
Key Gamecock: Brandon McIlwain
Overall advantage: Push
When South Carolina is on defense …
The Gamecocks have had a mixed bag through two games. Game 1 saw success in stopping a power run game. The second week brought a spread attack that shredded South Carolina’s defense, which could not tackle effectively.
Unfortunately, East Carolina is going to lean to more of a Mississippi State look than a Vanderbilt look. Philip Nelson also will be the best quarterback that USC has seen this season. The ECU quarterback is completing more than 80 percent of his passes, hitting short and long efficiently. James Summers, a former quarterback, is a dynamic playmaker across the offense. Zay Jones is a threat at wide receiver.
There are weapons to deal with and the Gamecocks have a second shuffling through players due to injury and a lack of physicality. Mark King said he will be a starting cornerback this week. The safety position is in flux with Chaz Elder missing at least three weeks with a rib injury. That position will be tested downfield and in run support with how the Pirates run their offense.
ECU is averaging 42.5 points per game and almost 6.0 yards per carry, while ranking No. 8 in the nation with 7.71 yards per play.
Can Carolina tackle better in the front seven and stop a high-powered Pirates attack? Can it stop playmakers on the edge? Those questions remain after last week and against a tough test.
Key matchup: South Carolina defensive backs vs. ECU playmakers
Key Gamecock: D.J. Smith
Overall advantage: ECU playmakers