Typically, the game after Clemson is reserved for South Carolina’s bowl game, or, in 2010, the SEC Championship Game. However, this year is different.
Because the Sept. 15 game against Marshall was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5, 4-4 SEC) will be taking on the Akron Zips (4-7, 2-6 MAC) in a rare Dec. 1 regular season game.
The last time the Gamecocks played a regular season game after Clemson was in 1987, when they traveled to Miami to play the Miami Hurricanes. Saturday will also be first regular season game at Williams-Brice Stadium in the month of December since a 26-0 win over the Virginia Cavaliers on Dec. 3, 1960.
After an emotional 56-35 loss to the Clemson Tigers, it can be easy to look ahead to a rare December home game and an upcoming bowl game. However, head football coach Will Muschamp said that his team and staff will be focused and will prepare for this game like they have for the previous 11 games.
“We spend the same amount of time as far as coaches in the office whether we are playing Akron, or whoever we're playing. It’s part of our preparation; our players understand that,” Muschamp said on Tuesday. “The opponent is nameless and faceless; it’s our job to make a decision to be who we are on game day. And you gotta do that by preparing the right way.”
Junior quarterback Jake Bentley echoed Muschamp’s sentiments about the team’s preparation.
“We’re trying to focus on this," Bentley said. "The main mindset is just do whatever we can to prepare for Akron and for our seniors to send them off the right way."
Some fans might dismiss Akron because of its 4-7 record, but the Zips still have talented players on their team. Muschamp was especially impressed by Akron quarterback Kato Nelson.
“Kato Nelson, the quarterback, is a dual threat guy and can do both,” Muschamp said. “They really use him in the RPOs and some in the run game, and throws the ball well.”
Nelsen has completed 159 of his 303 pass attempts for a 52.5 percent completion rate. He has also thrown for 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the year.
The Zips not only have talent at quarterback, but also at other offensive positions.
“[Van] Edwards is a really good back with a big lower body. We’re going to need to play the run better," Muschamp said. "[Andre] Williams and [Kwadarrius] Smith, two guys on the outside that really catch your eye as far as offensively, guys that make plays down the field.”
Edwards is the team’s leading rusher, with 147 carries for 558 yards. He has run for three touchdowns in 2018, and has an average of 3.8 yards per carry.
The Gamecocks hope to contain the Zips' offense despite key defensive injuries from the past few weeks.
Muschamp confirmed on Tuesday that freshman defensive back Jaycee Horn, who was injured for the Clemson game, was still in a boot but could possibly return for the Akron game. Muschamp also noted that A.J. Turner, who usually is a running back, will be at the nickel position against the Zips.
Muschamp said he has full confidence that Turner will succeed at the new position.
“He is a good tackler and a good space player, and has the ability to be a good man coverage guy,” Muschamp said. “He’s a good athlete, so we’re going to give him some opportunity to play on the defensive side of the ball this week.”
Even with defensive injuries and a slightly unusual game time, the Gamecocks, especially Bentley, seem to be looking forward to giving the seniors a proper send-off against the Zips.
“It’s our last time playing at Williams-Brice Stadium this year. It’s the last time for our seniors to ever play here," Bentley said. "Do whatever we can to win this game for them."
Muschamp and the Gamecocks look to take care of business against the Akron Zips and to improve to 7-5 on the season before the impending bowl game. Kickoff against the Zips is set for noon at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday and can be seen on SEC Network Alternate.