The Daily Gamecock

Preview: Gamecock football to open Shane Beamer era against Eastern Illinois

South Carolina will kickoff the 2021 season under the lights of Williams-Brice this Saturday night against Eastern Illinois. 

The Panthers are one of a few teams in college football to have already played a game this season, having lost to Indiana State over the weekend by a score of 26-21. 

This will be the first time that South Carolina has faced the Panthers in football.

Eastern Illinois is not a unique opponent for the Beamer family. Shane Beamer's father's, College Football Hall of Fame member Frank Beamer, last game as the head coach of Murray State was against the Panthers.

On Tuesday afternoon, South Carolina announced that graduate assistant Zeb Noland would be the team's starting quarterback. The former Iowa State and North Dakota State quarterback was not even on the roster two weeks ago, because he was signed as a coach. He spent most of the summer drawing up the playbook for the offense he now will lead. 

It was also announced that graduate transfer Jason Brown could see playtime as quarterback on Saturday. The former Saint Francis University quarterback was one of the multiple transfers South Carolina acquired over the offseason.

“I’d love to be able to get him in the game and get him going on Saturday night,” Beamer said. “If he earns the right to play [in practice], I’d love to be able to get him in there and get him going early.” 

The running back position is also, seemingly, up for grabs. On the depth chart released on Tuesday, there was no clear starter. 

The SEC leader in rushing yards last season, Kevin Harris, is being eased into the starting position after a back injury over the offseason. This will open the backfield for ZaQuandre White, MarShawn Lloyd and JuJu McDowell.

“A lot of it is production since spring practice and preseason camp,” Beamer said on who will get the first carries Saturday, “They’re all going to play.” 

On the defensive end, the Gamecocks should be in full health. All but two of the defensive starters listed are upperclassmen, and Cam Smith was announced as healthy and does plan to play on Saturday.

Eastern Illinois, the alma mater of famous quarterbacks such as Tony Romo and Jimmy Garappolo, will be led by freshman quarterback, Otto Kuhns. Kuhns appeared in four games last season, passing at a 50.6% completion percentage, five touchdowns and four interceptions. 

Kuhns struggled on Saturday against Indiana State, going 14/29 with two interceptions. 

Eastern Illinois is also led by its running back, Jaelin Benefield. Last season, the junior averaged 4.4 yards per carry. He is known more as a power back, and he did not play last weekend.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are led by Jason Johnson, a PhilSteele 1st team All-OVC member. He led the Panthers this past weekend with 8 tackles.

EIU's inexperience could play a role in this game. The Panthers last beat an FBS team in 2016 when they knocked off Miami (OH) by a score of 21-17.

In other festivities, the Gamecock Walk is back, and it will start two and a half hours prior to kickoff.

Beamer posted a tweet on Monday stating, “Counting on Gamecock Walk to be the biggest and best one EVER this Saturday !!”

South Carolina plans on wearing the white helmet, garnet jersey and white pants combination on Saturday, in front of their first expected full capacity crowd since November of 2019.

“We couldn’t be more excited about going back into a packed Williams-Brice Stadium this Saturday,” said Beamer.