Rapid Reaction: South Carolina overcomes early struggles to knock off East Carolina
At the outset, it appeared that the Shane Beamer honeymoon was officially over, and the Zeb Noland Disney film script was put on the shelf. Then South Carolina absorbed East Carolina’s best punch, and settled its offense in the second half.
Before a hostile crowd of 40,816 in Greenville, North Carolina, South Carolina quickly found its first struggles of the Beamer era early and often, but bounced back at the end to secure a 20-17 victory thanks to a late walk-off field goal from Parker White.
Noland struggled for most of the game, but by midway through the second half, the veteran QB seemed to find some semblance of a groove. However, that’s when the defense allowed East Carolina to get on track, and gave up a field goal after a seven-minute drive to open the fourth quarter.
Still, the Gamecocks answered with a White field goal, thanks to a tremendous 63-yard kickoff return by Juju McDowell. McDowell then became a spark in the running game on the final drive as he showed plenty of flashes after halftime.
The first play of the game from scrimmage couldn’t have gone much worse for the Gamecocks.
The South Carolina defense yielded a 75-yard passing touchdown to East Carolina on an end around wide receiver pass as defensive backs Darius Rush and David Spaulding were beaten by Jsi Hatfield on a pass from wide receiver Tyler Snead. If that wasn’t bad enough, Kingsley Enagbare was flagged for targeting on Snead, but the review was overturned and he stayed in the game.
Then on the seventh play of South Carolina’s opening drive on offense, Noland threw an interception on some miscommunication with Jaheim Bell as the starting QB struggled to find rhythm early.
The Gamecocks gave Zaquandre White the start at running back, but most of the backs struggled to find a groove, much like the offense overall. Kevin Harris appeared to show the most promise, but only had 32 yards by well into the fourth quarter.
Like the first play from scrimmage, the Gamecocks suffered another similar sequence late in the first quarter when Noland was flagged for intentional grounding, then there was a late hit on a punt return and Nick Muse was flagged for targeting in a call that was ultimately reversed.
Then with 12:38 left in the second quarter, Dakereon Joyner lost a fumble, albeit a questionable call from the officials, the third turnover for the Gamecocks, on a pass play over the middle. The play was reviewed and it stood. Two plays later, the Pirates were in the end zone again for a 14-0 lead.
It wasn’t until a minute left in the first half that the Gamecocks got a big play that turned into a positive. Damani Staley returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks some momentum for the first time.
Beamer showed some solid game management calling timeouts in the final seconds of the first half. The Gamecocks went to halftime taking solace in the fact that ECU’s 2 touchdown drives encompassed 3 plays, including one set up by a questionable fumble call.
The best drive for South Carolina came very late in the third quarter when Noland led the Gamecocks for 72 yards on 5 plays, and found Joyner for a 13-yard touchdown. The play was setup by a pass interference penalty on the Pirates after a Gamecock touchdown by Josh Vann was called back on review.
Noland misfired on several throws, and was just 11-for-21 after that scoring drive, but the quarterback situation may have shined more light on either Luke Doty’s health, or the rest of the quarterbacks as options as the coaching staff stuck with Noland despite his struggles.