The South Carolina football team (2-5, 1-4 SEC) is looking to end its midseason losing streak against Texas A&M (4-3, 2-2 SEC) when the two teams face off at noon this Saturday.
The Gamecocks' 30-24 home win against the Aggies in 2022 was one of the highlights of last season and the first time South Carolina has won the annual rivalry game since it started in 2014. Fifth-year wide receiver Xavier Legette returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, which set the tone for an electric Williams-Brice Stadium atmosphere and eventually led to a Gamecock win.
This season has been slower for South Carolina, including a tough loss this past weekend to the No. 20 Missouri Tigers, who started off hot with a 24-3 first half lead and never looked back. The Gamecocks only managed to score four field goals throughout the game, ultimately falling 34-12.
Since the Aggies' sophomore starting quarterback, Conner Weigman, suffered a season-ending foot injury in late September, former LSU quarterback redshirt sophomore Max Johnson has taken over the Texas A&M offense. The Aggies are 2-2 since Johnson took over, with losses against No. 11 Alabama and No. 19 Tennessee. Texas A&M's offense is averaging 400 yards per game for the season, which slightly outpaces South Carolina's offense at 392.4 yards per game.
“We’re starting games on the road in hostile environments better, but obviously we're not playing well enough," Beamer said in his press conference on Tuesday. “We've got to figure out how to put four quarters together."
Beamer said there were multiple road games from his first year at South Carolina where they were beaten "from the jump.” Though the team has made improvements in the first quarters of road games, according to Beamer, the Gamecocks still need to maintain that energy throughout an entire game.
One of Texas A&M's strongest units is on special teams, Beamer said, and graduate student wide receiver Ainias Smith returned a punt 82 yards to seal the game against Arkansas earlier this season.
Texas A&M's also touts the ninth highest performing total defense in the country. Beamer said that the Aggies' secondary is hard to get around because of its length, and its defensive line is one of the best fronts in the country. Texas A&M's pass rush averages 4.14 sacks a game, which is tied for the most sacks in the FBS with Penn State. Junior linebacker Edgerrin Cooper also contributes to that number with already six sacks this season.
Graduate student defensive back Josh DeBerry, a Boston College transfer, add to the Aggies' pass defense on the back end with two interceptions this year.
Beamer said that the Aggies have depth at almost every skill position, including three productive running backs. Texas A&M's offense will face a South Carolina secondary that is ranked No. 127 in passing yards allowed in the FBS.
Freshman defensive back Jalon Kilgore said the Gamecocks defense's attitude in pass situations has improved recently as they prepare for the Aggies receiving core. Kilgore has accumulated 36 solo tackles and one interception across seven games in his first season in Columbia.
“The energy just changed," Kilgore said. "Scheme-wise, nothing changed. It was just our energy."
Kilgore said that the team's energy carried over into practice this week and he hopes it will carry into College Station this weekend.
However, injuries for the Gamecocks this season have begun to affect the way the team practices, according to Beamer, as they were unable to simulate opposing line activity with a lack of healthy linemen on both sides of the ball, which forced two tight ends to fill in as offensive linemen temporarily.
“I’ve never, in all my years of coaching, been around a year where you've had that many injuries at one position,” Beamer said.
Both Kilgore and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle T.J. Sanders said the key to working around the injuries has been young players who stepped up into bigger roles in practice, which bodes well for the future. Kilgore said the Gamecocks' receiving corps will be in good hands when the veterans leave and that freshman wide receiver Tyshawn Russell and redshirt sophomore wide receiver O'Mega Blake impress him in practice.
The Aggies enter this game as a 14-point favorite, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Texas A&M is coming off of a bye week but lost to the Tennessee Volunteers 20-13 on Oct. 14. The Gamecocks will take on the Aggies in College Station, Texas, on Oct. 28. Kickoff is set for noon and will be available on ESPN.