Two SEC Network shows will make an appearance at the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe ahead of the Gamecocks’ football game against No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday night.
The action began at 9 a.m., when Marty Smith and Ryan McGee will host a live episode of their show “Marty & McGee.” An hour later, “SEC Nation” — featuring analysts Roman Harper and Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida — ran until noon on game day.
This weekend’s matchup between a South Carolina team looking to improve on last season’s regular season win total in year two under head coach Shane Beamer and a Tennessee team hoping to improve its College Football Playoff resume set the stage under the network’s spotlight.
Even after the Gamecocks’ disappointing 38-6 loss to Florida last weekend, McGee said there is room for optimism regarding the trajectory of the program.
“I still think South Carolina’s ahead of schedule — they’re going to a bowl game, they're going to a bowl game two games in a row. What they did a year ago was shocking, especially considering the quarterback situation, and they kept winning games,” McGee said. “It was also kind of a curse because it set a bar for year two that maybe was almost a little unreasonable.”
McGee said Tennessee will not be fazed by the pressure of reaching the Playoff for the first time in the program's history but added that playing such a potent opponent is not an unfamiliar situation for South Carolina.
“Tennessee has done a really good job this year of, (Tennessee head coach) Josh Heupel keeps saying, ‘be where your cleats are,’” McGee said. “They’ve done a really great job of focusing on the game that’s right in front of them, and not worrying about the Playoff or the SEC Championship or whatever else, but South Carolina has been in this position so many times … South Carolina knows how to win these games.”
One of the Volunteers’ greatest contributors on offense is junior wide receiver Jalin Hyatt — an Irmo, S.C. native — who has taken the nation by storm this season after totaling 58 receptions for 1,116 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns — the most in the country. Limiting Hyatt’s production will be pivotal for the Gamecocks, according to Harper.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens because every time I turn around and look up, he’s wide open somewhere,” Harper said. “It’ll be interesting to see if somebody can actually cover him, and not so much because he’s so much better than everybody and beating them, but just because the way they run offense and design plays for him, he’s always open.”
Junior quarterback Spencer Rattler has been under the national spotlight for the Gamecocks all season, and McGee said Saturday’s game provides a great opportunity to be an x-factor for the home team.
“We all saw flashes of it in the first half (of the spring game), so we’re all waiting on it to click, and if there was ever a stage to do it, it would be on primetime on Saturday night,” McGee said.
Harper also said it was important that the Gamecocks get its fans and special teams unit, which is ranked No. 1 in special teams efficiency according to ESPN, involved early.
“What you need to do is capitalize on special teams, especially early — the same way you came out and jumped on Kentucky would be a great start to this game,” Harper said. “It’s going to have the energy and the momentum going early. … Use the crowd, use the momentum that is college football in your home stadium.”
McGee said he has been in that crowd on many occasions when he was younger and gave high praise to the game day atmosphere and passion South Carolina fans have for the football team.
“I’ve been coming to games at Williams-Brice since I was a pre-teen, and I’ve always believed this is the most underrated atmosphere in college football,” McGee said. “People talk about (Neyland Stadium) or whatever else, … and people who’ve never been here are always shocked.”