The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Gamecock football topples Eastern Illinois 46-0 in season opener

<p>Redshirt freshman running back Marshawn Lloyd evades a tackle attempt made by an Eastern Illinois player. Lloyd made the first down for the Gamecocks.</p>

Redshirt freshman running back Marshawn Lloyd evades a tackle attempt made by an Eastern Illinois player. Lloyd made the first down for the Gamecocks.

The Shane Beamer era of Gamecock football opened up in a grand fashion Saturday evening at Williams-Brice Stadium against Eastern Illinois. At the first full capacity game at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2019, the Gamecocks rolled to a lopsided 46-0 victory behind an efficient passing game and a rock-solid defense.

One of 11 new faces for the Gamecocks, former graduate assistant coach Zeb Noland shined in his debut, throwing 13-21 for 121 yards and four touchdowns.

“There’s always a little dawg left in anybody,” Noland said at a postgame press conference.

The Gamecocks went three and out on the first drive of the game. Following an Eastern Illinois interception, Noland found the fellow fifth-year senior tight end, Nick Muse, for the four-yard score. The extra point attempt turned into 2 points as Muse took the direct snap in field goal formation and scored, a move head coach Beamer said was in the game plan all week.

“That first time we scored, we were going to do it,” Beamer said.

Noland led the Gamecocks to three more first-half touchdowns, all of which came in the air. Receiving the ball with one minute, 33 seconds left in the half, the Gamecocks sliced the Panther defense open and scored with 34 seconds remaining. Noland found redshirt senior running back ZaQuandre White out of the backfield for the 10-yard score.

White led the Gamecocks in rushing and receiving, with an impressive stat line rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and four catches for 39 yards with the touchdown.

Redshirt senior running back ZaQuandre White celebrates a touchdown after a 63-yard run downfield. This touchdown brought the Gamecocks to 39 points at the top of the fourth quarter.

Running backs Marshawn Lloyd, a redshirt freshman, and freshman Juju McDowell also saw the field a lot, with Lloyd carrying the ball 14 times for 55 yards and McDowell carrying 12 times for 46 yards.

“Obviously, you can feel the energy in the stadium,” Noland said. “It just hits a little different in the SEC.”

Additionally, Noland said he was able to lean on former Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw.

“[Shaw] makes me embrace the little things — running down and getting the student section hype before — when you run out of the tunnel,” he said.

Star junior running back Kevin Harris was inactive in the contest. Beamer said it was due to illness and that he will return to practice this week. 

The Gamecock defense looked impressive throughout the game. The unit stood strong, holding Eastern Illinois to a total of 109 total yards from scrimmage and forcing two turnovers, scoring one in the fourth quarter. The Panthers punted to the Gamecocks a total of seven times.

On Eastern Illinois’ first offensive play of the game, redshirt senior defensive back Jaylan Foster picked off the pass and set the Gamecocks up just outside of the red zone on the EIU 27 yard line. 

Sophomore edge rusher Jordan Burch added the closing note on the route with a 61-yard interception return. The play was Burch’s first touchdown in his second season in a Gamecock uniform. 

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Cam Smith led the Gamecocks with four tackles, one of which was for a loss. Smith battled back from an early injury suffered late in summer training camp.

The Gamecock special teams looked in top shape, with redshirt freshman linebacker Debo Williams blocking two punts during the game.

South Carolina will now turn its sights to East Carolina next Saturday at noon in Greenville, North Carolina.