The Gamecock football team is ranked in the AP top 25 for the first time since September 2018. The team will attempt to prove it belongs with the nation's best by capturing a win against the Missouri Tigers this Saturday.
“Two years ago at this time, a two-win team, being ranked in the top 25 was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind,” head coach Shane Beamer said. “To be ranked in the top 25 to me is just a sign and another statement that we’re headed in the right direction.”
Despite the ranking, the team isn't satisfied and wants to continue improving, according to Beamer.
“The only ranking that matters is the end of the season and we got a lot more in front of us. We talked about it (and) we are writing the story still of this 2022 football team,” Beamer said. “We have to continue to get better and that’s what we’re really focusing on.”
South Carolina enters the game against Missouri on a four-game winning streak. Wins against Kentucky and Texas A&M evened the Gamecocks’ conference record to (2-2).
This week’s matchup will put South Carolina’s offense to the test. Missouri is fourth in the SEC in total yards allowed per game, with 326, fifth in rush yards allowed per game, with 128, and tied for second-most interceptions in the SEC with six.
“Statistically you look at them in red zone, third down, total defense, they’re right up there near the top in our league in pretty much every single category,” Beamer said. “They’ve presented a lot of problems for every offense they’ve played in the SEC this year.”
South Carolina will look to sustain the success it has found on the ground in recent games. South Carolina has rushed for at least 100 yards in its last four games after failing to reach that mark once in its first three. Beamer praised the team’s improvement in perimeter blocking as a partial reason for this jump.
“A lot of those runs that weren't successful for us at times were because we didn’t do a good job at blocking a safety or blocking a corner,” Beamer said. “We've just continued to work at it. They have been better. We still have to continue to be better.”
Another reason for the team’s success on the ground has been redshirt sophomore running back MarShawn Lloyd.
He has turned things around after a slow start to the season. During the team's four-game winning streak, Lloyd has rushed for over 50 yards in each of those games and scored a combined seven touchdowns.
Complementing Lloyd in the backfield, graduate student running back Christian Beal-Smith made a return from injury last week and scored a touchdown. Beal-Smith said he and Lloyd have a strong relationship and compete against each other every day.
“We’re pretty much just trying to make each other better each day, we come and we compete,” Smith said. “Me and MarShawn have built a really, really good relationship over the past couple of months.”
Last week, the team was successful on third-down conversions, finishing 8-16. This week they will face a team that ranks ninth in the nation when it comes to stopping its opponents on third down.
“It’s kind of demoralizing when we have a good run and next thing you (know the) third down comes and we go off the field,” fifth-year receiver Josh Vann said. “I wouldn’t say I pride myself on being a big third-down receiver, but I love third downs ... Those are the big plays where you want to get the ball to your playmakers.”
One big area of improvement Beamer wants to see this week is the team’s play on first and second down to avoid having to rely on third down conversions.
If the team wins this week, the Gamecocks would clinch bowl eligibility for the second time in Beamer’s first two seasons with the program. The team has not reached bowl eligibility in October since 2017.
South Carolina and Missouri will kick off the game on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Williams-Brice Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.