South Carolina football, now 1-2 (0-1 SEC) after a 41-point loss to No. 1 Georgia, will remain at home to host UNC Charlotte this Saturday. Charlotte, who is 1-3 (0-1 C-USA), earned its first win of the season this past weekend against Georgia State.
The Daily Gamecock spoke with sports editor Bryson Foster and assistant sports editor Joey Ellsworth of the Niner Times, Charlotte’s student paper, to discuss the matchup which is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Columbia.
The Daily Gamecock: After a win last week that ended a season-opening three game losing streak, what is the atmosphere like around the Charlotte football program?
Bryson Foster (BF): “Atmosphere around the program was a tad tense, last couple weeks. But this win was really good. It felt like there's a different atmosphere around the team. And I think that has to do with sixth-year quarterback Chris Reynolds being back, the team look really rejuvenated. And they have felt like they've been close to breaking through all season. And you can really tell with, you know, a lot of the players that they're hungry for the win. And I think they knew that when they did win, that they could start getting some confidence back and trying to rattle off some wins. So, the atmosphere right now is very good. I would say that they're super excited to go to Columbia, no matter what the result is, it's going to be really cool to have another opportunity to play a Power Five team.”
Joey Ellsworth (JE): “The atmosphere around the team — especially a school whose football program is one of our biggest things, it was definitely a lot of disappointment around a lot of people with how things were going, not a great start. But with the win, everything's kind of turned around a bit, you definitely see a lot more excitement for the program, even after just one win.”
What are the expectations of the fans and how do those compare to head coach Will Healy?
BF: “I think any expectation for fans is, 'hey, we want to win,' and I think for any coach, they have to have that confidence in their team. But I will say, even though there was a bit of disappointment in some of the games, the fans still kept turning out. And they've still been there supporting this team. And they really want them to perform well. And of course, Will Healy every week at the press conference, he always talks about how he's got a lot of confidence in his guys. And he really loves his guys. He tries to pull the best out of them every week. And I think the big thing that he said before the Georgia State game was 'hey, the fans have to have patience. We're building something. We're trying to build something here and sometimes that takes time,' which is kind of a bold statement from a coach you know, going into the Georgia State game, they were 0-3. But I really feel like the fans are behind this team. They're behind Will Healy. They want to see him succeed. And Will, I really feel like, is a player first coach, he cares about his players, he's going to push them to give the best version of themselves every single time they step on the field, whether that's game or practice.”
JE: “So, kind of looking at, we have these good people. What's next, as well for when we lose these good people. And is there a future for just this year alone? Do they have hope for any wins this season or do they just give up on the team completely? But the one win really rallies people on and off the field. So, people have higher hopes for the team and for Healy and have more confidence in him and their ability to win games now, even though it was just one victory.”
The defense seems to be an issue for the 49ers after allowing at least 40 points in each of the team's first four games, how will Charlotte try to adjust this weekend to address that?
BF: “I think defensively for the 49ers they will definitely look to probably pressure Spencer Rattler and the offense early and often. On both sides of the defensive end, you've got Amir Siddiq, who transfers in from Central Michigan and Marquis Watts who has been at Charlotte for five years. And he is second all-time in career sacks at Charlotte. So, I think those two will be key in the game and I think they'll look to put pressure definitely on the Gamecocks early. And I think also defensively, the secondary is where they're looking to tighten up this week. They'll look to stay with the receivers. That's really been the big issue, is the secondary play.”
JE: “The defense was always the question mark. And when they lose games, it was it just sometimes kind of hard for their offense to catch up and hold off for the defensive struggles — to going into this year with returning players and new players and the new defensive coordinator, eyes were on a revamped defense and hoping for that. And so far, in the beginning of the year that's not really what fans saw. And so, it did take some confidence away from their higher hopes for a better defense with a lot of missed assignments sometimes and letting teams run over them at times.”
Do you think the Charlotte players will feel intimidated at all with having to travel to Williams-Brice to play a night game?
BF: “I don't think there is going to be an intimidation factor for Charlotte. They've already played a Power Five opponent in Maryland. And Charlotte has beaten a Power Five opponent in Duke last season. Now, both of those games were at home, and I think going to an SEC venue, man, there's nothing like it.”
JE: “If you go to a home game at Charlotte, you can see how the team feeds off of the energy of the crowd, even if they're losing. You can see if the crowd has that hype factor, the team will to. The team could be losing, and they'll still be energized … But when on the road, I think it's not so much. Charlotte is being put down, I think the other team is just going to be put up that much more.”
Who are the impact players for Charlotte that fans can expect to see have an impact on Saturday's game?
BF: “He's the first person that comes to mind, wide receiver Grant DuBose ... He's got 25 catches on the season and on average, he's receiving you know, 12 yards a catch. Grant DuBose is definitely somebody that can cause havoc for defenses. And also, another receiver is Elijah Spencer who leads the team in receiving, number nine, he's got 319 yards, and on average, he's averaging 19 yards per catch.”
JE: “There's a number of wide receivers that are at risk of just being deadly any given night. And, and of course, you have to look at the excellent passing of quarterback Chris Reynolds for a big part of that. He's been our star player for years now and he's been in and out with injury this year. But he was in last game, and I'm sure he's going to be back against South Carolina. So that's definitely one of the biggest names to keep an eye out for.”
What are your score predictions?
BF: "45-27," South Carolina.
JE: "38-20, Charlotte loses."