With a high-caliber quarterback now under center combined with other new additions, South Carolina will look to build off its Duke's Mayo Bowl win and surpass its 7-6 record of last season.
After a bounce back year for South Carolina football under new head coach Shane Beamer last season, the program won more games in 2021 than it had the previous two seasons combined under former head coach Will Muschamp. Despite this improvement, the Gamecocks were still unable to beat top opponents such as Georgia or Clemson and had to pull off a late game-winning drive to defeat Vanderbilt.
By utilizing transfer students, Beamer said he plans to continue providing quality minutes while filling positional gaps.
"Last year when we brought in all these transfers. We didn't miss on any of them — they all played major, meaningful roles for us last season — and feel confident saying the same thing this year with this group," Beamer said after the Garnet & Black Spring Game.
Oklahoma transfer and redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler headlines the offense and could bring stability to a team that started four different quarterbacks last season. Rattler spoke about his role on the team as an experienced leader but also said that he’s learned from his fellow signal callers.
“This is one of the best quarterback rooms I’ve ever been in,” Rattler said. “It’s great guys, real top-quality guys, supportive — we all support each other. All of us have unique qualities to our game, and I think we all can learn a little bit from each other.”
He’ll be taking snaps from an offensive line that is returning all five starters. However, the line was one of the worst pass-blocking groups in the SEC, allowing 31 sacks.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield addressed the issue at a press conference back in March, saying just under half of the sacks were the fault of the offensive line. With this in mind, Satterfield said he trusts the offensive line to perform better next season.
"When we went back and reviewed the tape, there were 14 times the offensive line was responsible for the sack. The rest of them were just quarterbacks, running backs missing blitzers," Satterfield said. "But we have all of our line guys back. I think the energy level that they brought this off-season, and the commitment and leadership that you see in unit meetings and team meetings with (Derrick Moore), I think it's night and day."
Highly-touted recruit and redshirt sophomore running back MarShawn Lloyd returns to the backfield and will be joined by Wake Forest graduate transfer Christian Beal-Smith. The two will look to replace 2020 SEC leading rusher Kevin Harris and hope to tally more than the six 100-yard rushing games the Gamecocks produced in 2021. The back-field’s pass-catching counterparts, fifth-year wideout Josh Vann and junior tight end Jaheim Bell, will heavily rely on stability at the quarterback position to reach their ceilings.
On the other side of the ball, South Carolina had one of the better pass defenses in the SEC in 2021, totaling a conference-high 24 interceptions and fumble recoveries. This is due in part to the poor run defense the Gamecocks had, allowing more touchdowns, first downs and yards gained than against passing.
Redshirt junior and fifth-year defensive backs Cam Smith and R.J. Roderick headline the South Carolina secondary while junior and senior defensive lineman Jordan Burch and Zacch Pickens lead the defensive line. Burch and other edge rushers will try to improve upon hurrying the opposing quarterback while Pickens and fellow lineman will attempt to apply pressure to the interiors of offensive lines.
"We're working our moves and having good communication together," Burch said following the Garnet & Black Spring Game. "I feel we've been working on that pretty good. Zacch Pickens, Boogie, all my guys up front, you can talk to them. We can make calls for ourselves, cause the communication is so good right now."
Ranked at 25 in ESPN’s initial “Way-Too-Early” top 25 rankings, the Gamecocks look to become ranked for the first time since week two of the 2018 season. With a schedule that includes an opening SEC weekend at Arkansas, followed by opponents like Georgia, Texas A&M and eventually Clemson, South Carolina will have it’s fair share of challenges. Beamer and his crew defied odds last season and will attempt to fight for a second-straight bowl game appearance in the 2022 season.