Surprise in 2021, South Carolina Looks to Take Next Step in 2022

by TP Hammock

Photo courtesy of South Carolina athletics

Entering 2021, South Carolina was largely an afterthought.

The program was in a state of disrepair as head coach Will Muschamp had just been fired. Successor Shane Beamer had never been a college football head coach. To find a starting quarterback, the Gamecocks looked toward graduate assistant Zeb Noland, who took the keys to the offense.

This was odd, as he was supposed to be a coach — not a player. No one expected anything special. By all accounts, the 2021 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Someone forgot to tell Beamer.

Many thought a 4-8 season would be good enough to hang their hats on. Despite playing musical quarterbacks and struggling with the likes of Troy, East Carolina and Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks obliterated all expectations.

The 2021 season ended with a victory over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and a mayonnaise bath for Beamer. South Carolina defied the odds to finish with a winning record at 7-6 — its first winning season since 2017.

By exceeding expectations in 2021, South Carolina has created new ones for 2022. The program saw success with the transfer portal, which included the addition of former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler.

While Rattler’s tenure at Oklahoma ended on a sour note, he had plenty of success in 2020. Entering last season, Rattler was a popular Heisman Trophy pick. He’ll likely be a big part of the puzzle in 2022:

Offense

Last season, the Gamecocks ranked just 13th in the SEC and 110th nationally in total offense. They seemed to live and die with the run game. Being forced to make plays through the air was no recipe for success.

This season, however, expect a more pass-heavy attack from Rattler and crew. The Gamecocks do have questions at the pass catching positions. We’ll also see how Rattler fares under the pressure that comes with facing SEC defenses.

South Carolina returns four starters on the offensive line. After a 7-win season in 2021 and a major upgrade offensively, it’s hard to imagine the Gamecocks having a worse season. They could be one of the most improved offenses in the entire country.

Defense

With many starters returning, South Carolina should be very good defensively. Last season, the Gamecocks ranked sixth in the SEC and 41st nationally in total defense.

A projected second-round NFL Draft pick, defensive tackle Zachh Pickens headlines that side of the ball. Pickens decided to stay another year after tallying four sacks in 2021.

With Pickens’ leadership, the Gamecocks should be solid enough to slow down many SEC East offenses this season. In its seven wins last season, South Carolina didn’t allow a single opponent to score more than 21 points.

Analysis

Beamer is the leader of his team — no question. The love between the players and Beamer is easy to see. Just look at the way they play hide-and-seek.

There is a lot of excitement for this team as it heads into this new season. South Carolina will be tested early. The Gamecocks visit Arkansas in Week 2 before hosting reigning national champion Georgia a week later.

While no one will be picking the Gamecocks to dethrone Georgia or Alabama, eight or nine wins is a real possibility. Tasked with a rebuild, Beamer has passed his early tests with flying colors. To this point, fans in Columbia have to like what they see.

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