South Carolina had a rough week last week against Florida, and now Shane Beamer’s life isn’t about to get any easier with the Tennessee Volunteers coming to Columbia this weekend.
By Matt Zemek
In most years over the past decade, the Volunteers coming to town would be a welcome chance to get a win. This isn’t any other year. This Volunteer team has just one loss and a College Football Playoff appearance in sight. That said, if South Carolina can beat the Vols, the Gamecocks could dramatically alter the playoff landscape. Here’s how they can pull off a season-changing shocker:
Do what is realistically possible to make Hendon Hooker have a bad day
Among college football quarterbacks, Hendon Hooker is at the top of the class, in an elite group that includes Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Bo Nix. One of the four could bring home the Heisman at the end of the year, maybe also C.J. Stroud. Hooker doesn’t turn the ball over and he doesn’t chuck and pray. He’s an extremely methodical quarterback who is completing 71% of his passes in the SEC. Doing that requires tremendous talent and hard work. While he can run the ball really well if he has to, he’s a pocket passer first and foremost. South Carolina has to make him uncomfortable, keeping him in the pocket and then caving the pocket to make him hesitate. Easier said than done, but South Carolina has to try to achieve that.
Don’t expect Spencer Rattler to keep up with Hooker
The trick for Shane Beamer in this game is to avoid getting sucked into a game where he’s asking his quarterback to match Hooker throw for throw. Spencer Rattler is simply not good enough to do that right now. There’s no sugarcoating it nor is there any point in beating around the bush. Every single time Rattler has been asked to throw a lot and keep the Gamecocks in the game by playing catch-up, he’s had a generally miserable day on the field and South Carolina has lost. There’s a point in time when a head coach must understand that losing a game isn’t as important as protecting players and understanding that they simply can’t do everything. South Carolina has to get on top of this game early, control the ball, play keep-away, and reduce Tennessee’s number of possessions to force Hooker to press and get nervous.
Establishing the run game is mandatory and non-negotiable
In the last five games, South Carolina has broken the 100-yard rushing mark on one occasion. The Gamecock backfield has endured a number of games in which they rushed for fewer than 50 yards. Given Rattler’s preferred style of play, the Gamecocks simply must supply him with a competent rushing performance or Beamer will ask Rattler to throw the ball when behind on the scoreboard. South Carolina simply has to avoid that worst-case scenario.