South Carolina’s chances of beating Tennessee were not very high. Let’s be honest. Sure, Spencer Rattler played a great game, and if we knew he was going to play like that, of course we all would have given the Gamecocks a great shot to pull off the upset.
By Matt Zemek
Obviously, few people expected that performance from Rattler. It came out of nowhere. After two and a half months of struggles and unsteady moments, Rattler morphed into the man South Carolina fans hoped he would become. Cast aside all other thoughts about the 2022 season itself; the biggest aspect of that display from Rattler is how it reshapes what is possible for the 2023 season. The goal is obvious for coach Shane Beamer and his offensive staff: Get Rattler to play at or near that level on a relatively consistent basis next year. If South Carolina can do that, the Gamecocks are going to be a nationally relevant program.
They might even be able to do what Tennessee has done this year, going from the shadows of obscurity to the forefront of the national conversation (and still in line for a New Year’s Six bowl, something South Carolina football has never achieved).
As we turn the page and look ahead, South Carolina’s chances this week against Clemson don’t seem so remote after Rattler took a flamethrower to Tennessee. How do you follow up a game in which you beat a top-five team and a division rival? Why not do the same thing to a Clemson team that has looked very mortal despite its 10-1 record? The Tigers have struggled mightily this year, barely scraping by against Wake Forest and Syracuse. If South Carolina (read: Spencer Rattler) plays like it did last weekend, it might not even be an upset to some observers if the Gamecocks can pull it off.
1 – No more hoping for dad days
South Carolina might not have stopped Hendon Hooker in the traditional sense, but the way the Gamecocks were able to limit his damage was notable. South Carolina showed signs of buckling in the first half, but the Gamecocks buckled down in the second half and did not allow the Tennessee offense to bust loose and dominate. This defense showed it could answer the bell and it will need to do it again versus Clemson. The big plus for South Carolina is that D.J. Uiagalelei is nowhere near as proficient or as dynamic as Hendon Hooker. Force D.J. to make patient throws all over the field. Don’t get beaten deep. Don’t get caught out of position. Keep plays and receivers in front – that has to be the mantra for the South Carolina secondary.
2 – Please stay, Spencer Rattler
It’s hard to tell whether this was the moment it all came together for Spencer Rattler at South Carolina or if Tennessee just flopped. The numbers were spectacular: 30-of-37 with six touchdowns is exactly what South Carolina thought it was getting when Shane Beamer nabbed his commitment in the transfer portal. Of course, there were things to work on, but this is a touted prospect who has the tools if he can harness the mental side of the game. Closing out a regular season with wins over two highly-ranked rivals could be transformative. Can Rattler replicate his Tennessee masterpiece? Clemson’s defense is a lot better than Tennessee’s, so Rattler needs to focus on getting the ball out early and not holding it too long. If a play isn’t there, move to the next play.
3 – Can Jaheim Bell do it once more?
South Carolina needed a solid performance from Bell if the Gamecocks were going to win against Tennessee. Bell gave them just enough on the ground and through the air, including two key touchdowns, which helped Rattler have the best game he has ever produced in a Gamecock uniform. If Bell and Rattler can find a way to put on a show Saturday, that could be good enough to beat the inconsistent Tigers. Containing Clemson’s offense seems doable; it’s more about the Gamecocks’ ability to play another high-level game on offense. That will be the problem. Pass protection has to hold up against Clemson’s strong front four. If it does, Bell needs to be there as Rattler’s key helper on offense.