The Daily Gamecock

Preview: South Carolina football looks to improve in its home opener, 50th game against Furman

The South Carolina football team has its eyes on its first win of the season as the Furman Paladins come to Columbia for the Gamecocks’ home opener on Saturday. The Paladins began the season ranked sixth in the FCS Coaches' Poll and are 1-0 after beating Tennessee Tech 45-10 in week one.  

This will be South Carolina and Furman’s 50th all-time meeting. The Gamecocks lead the series 28-20-1, and 15 of those wins have come in Columbia. The teams last met in 2014, when South Carolina won 41-10. 

“(Furman) won’t be wide-eyed coming in here on Saturday night, so if anybody thinks that’s the case and that this is a 'take a breath week,' you’re sorely mistaken,”  head coach Shane Beamer said. “This is a really good team coming in here, and we need to play really, really well.”

South Carolina enters the in-state matchup coming off a 31-17 loss in its highly-anticipated season debut against No. 21 North Carolina.

“We came in yesterday, we watched the film (and) we fixed the stuff that we've got to get fixed,” redshirt junior quarterback Luke Doty said. “We’ll continue to do that throughout this week in preparation for Furman, but we’re not focused on what happened on Saturday anymore. We’re turning our heads to the next game, and that's Furman this weekend.”

Furman’s quarterback, graduate student Tyler Huff, completed 15 of his 27 pass attempts for 172 yards while throwing one interception and taking two sacks against Tennessee Tech. As a team, Furman rushed for 194 yards, led by graduate student running back Dominic Roberto with 59 yards on 18 attempts.

“This is a team that has won eight out of their last nine games. Their only loss was a three-point loss in the playoffs last year,” Beamer said. “This is a team with 18 returning starters. This is a team that every single starter on their offense or defense — except for two — is a junior, a senior or a graduate, so these guys have played a lot of football." 

The Paladin offense also had plenty of scoring help in its season-opener. The Furman defense forced four interceptions, including two pick-6s, and recovered two fumbles in game one. It also led the FCS in takeaways during the 2022 season with 18 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.

“Furman makes it tough because of the way they play defense. They’re really disruptive, and they’re a heavy-pressure team,” Beamer said. “We’ve got to be really good with what we’re calling, what we’re asking our offensive line and running backs and protection to do because they do a good job of coming from everywhere.”

South Carolina's loss also came with a long-lasting side effect: injuries. Senior wide receiver Antwane "Juice" Wells Jr. and freshman linebacker Grayson "Pup" Howard are likely to play, according to Beamer, after both were limited by preseason injuries. However, sophomore defensive back Nick Emmanwori and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Cason Henry are likely out Saturday after sustaining injuries early on against the Tar Heels. Redshirt junior linebacker Mohamed Kaba, who missed all but one game in 2022 with a right knee injury, injured his left knee against North Carolina and will miss the remainder of the season.

With youth and injuries impacting the Gamecocks' offense, South Carolina's offensive linemen conceded nine sacks in week one. Ahead of the matchup against a team that excels defensively, graduate student offensive lineman Nick Gargiulo wants to see improvements along the line come Saturday. 

“I’d like to play more cohesive as a unit. I would like to protect the quarterback, to be frank, and I’d just like to see continued growth from the room,” Gargiulo said.

Still, the Gamecocks saw bright spots in performances from redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler, fifth-year wide receiver Xavier Legette and redshirt junior linebacker Debo Williams. 

Rattler weathered the protection woes to throw for 353 yards with 30 completions in 39 attempts, marking his fourth 300-yard passing game since coming to South Carolina.

Legette caught nine passes for 178 yards against the Tar Heels, setting his own career-high and a school record for the most receiving yards in a season opener.

Williams also hit a career-high with 14 tackles, eight of which were solo and one that was a tackle for loss. His 14 tackles were the most recorded in the SEC during the season’s opening week.

The Gamecocks take on the Paladins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the team's first game at Williams-Brice Stadium since defeating then-No. 5 Tennessee last November. The game can be seen on ESPN+ or SECN+.