clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

East Carolina vs. South Carolina: Q&A with GarnetAndBlackAttack.com’s James Shahid

Gamecocks writer James Shahid provides his perspective on this weekend’s match-up with the Pirates

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Vanderbilt
East Carolina’s visit to South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon will be Will Muschamp’s first home game as the Gamecocks’ head coach.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

After back-to-back home wins--including a 33-30 victory over in-state rival NC State last weekend, first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery and East Carolina will now travel to SEC foe South Carolina.

As the Pirates (2-0) prepare for the Gamecocks (1-1), we had the opportunity to talk with GarnetAndBlackAttack.com's James Shahid to get a South Carolina perspective on this match-up—which is also Will Muschamp’s first home game.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Former coach Steve Spurrier had unprecedented success in his 10-plus years as the "Head Ball Coach" at South Carolina. Talk about Coach Spurrier's decision to step down mid-season and Athletic Director Ray Tanner choosing to bring in Will Muschamp as his replacement. The hire was surprising to some given his lack of success at Florida. Talk about that transition period and your thoughts on how the first 9-plus months have gone.

GABA's James Shahid:

In my opinion, Spurrier’s retirement was about as abrupt and shocking as it gets for a 70 year-old person calling it quits and ending their professional life. It was the right decision, but that’s not what I thought at the time of it happening. I was distraught at the news and wasn’t ready for him to be out of my life. Sad and helpless words, I know, but when you get to have a man like Spurrier in your life, it’s just not the same once he leaves it. On a side note, there’s not a Florida fan out there that’s not happy to have their man back, and I am jealous. During the good times of his run, I think the fan base began to think South Carolina’s football program was on the same level as Steve Spurrier. That’s not the case, and it’s clear now that he is gone.

As for Ray Tanner’s replacement, I’ll continue to say this, regardless of what Muschamp does or doesn’t achieve at South Carolina, we’re fortunate to have him as our head coach. The search could have definitely ended with a less qualified and talented head coach and coaching staff. Other than a few transfers, I think the transition has been about as seamless as it gets. The players buying into what Muschamp and his staff preach with great work ethic and effort combined with immediate success on the recruiting trail has played a big part in that transition. But, I think the program is about as good of a place as it could be in given the struggles of the past two seasons.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

When building his staff, Will Muschamp opted to retain offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. The Gamecocks have struggled to run the football this season, as they finished with 121 yards (3.8 npc) vs. Vanderbilt and managed a mere 34 against Mississippi State. Entering the season, what was the outlook upfront for USC? Returning starters? Depth? Who are the key contributors?

GABA's James Shahid:

First off, I think a lot of people will agree, including Muschamp, that Shawn Elliott is a hell of a coach, and just like his unit, he’s going through a little adjustment phase adapting to offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s system. Does that explain this offensive line struggles through the first two games? I don’t think so.

With the departure of right tackle Brandon Shell, the unit was immediately tasked with replacing their best player and undisputed leader, and all eyes pointed to senior Mason Zandi. While there’s arguably more experience and depth on the o-line than any other unit for South Carolina, their struggles thus far have been eye-opening, but there’s still a lot of time to get it right. I expect them to collectively have their best performance Saturday.

With all that said, the running game, or lack thereof, isn’t their fault. Muschamp is starting a freshman over RS Junior David Williams, when the majority of people thought this was Williams’ year to take the reigns in the backfield. That hasn’t happened and we are where we are with this running game.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Mississippi State
Redshirt senior quarterback Perry Orth (10) has started both of South Carolina’s games, but has split time with True Freshman Brandon McIlwain.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Through two games, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has elected to use a two-quarterback system with redshirt senior Perry Orth and true freshman Brandon McIlwain. Perry Orth, who appears to be the better passer of the two, has started the first two games, but McIlwain played well in the second half at MSU. Do you think that earned him the start against ECU? Talk a little about each quarterback's strengths, weaknesses and how you feel the team responds to each.

GABA's James Shahid:

I’ll start with Orth. He is what he is - an undersized walk-on whose talent ceiling will define the team’s overall ceiling of success when he’s on the field. Orth’s a great leader and has served that role splendidly, but he’s also a guy just happy to have a chance to play college football. He doesn’t have the talent and playmaking skills to engineer a prolific offense. While yes, you’re right, he is the better passer right now, I think at some point his lack of athleticism is going to catch up to him sooner rather than later and there’s just enough playmakers around him to hide his limitations and sustain a steady offense.

If you can’t tell by now that I want McIlwain to start Saturday, well, I do. I think his performance in the second half at Starkville convinced coaches just enough that he’s ready to take over and garner some valuable experience in 2016. Do I think they will? Probably not. I could easily see them going with the steadier, yet much less explosive Orth. That said, McIlwain’s dual threat ability provides a much needed playmaking option to go along wit Deebo Samuel and the younger Bryan Edwards and A.J. Turner. His passing looked much improved from week one to week two and I expect him to only progress as the season wears on.

NCAA Football: The Citadel at South Carolina
Williams-Brice Stadium (above) is sold out for Saturday’s 4 p.m. home opener against American Conference foe East Carolina.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

A.J. Turner, who has 102 yards rushing (3.5 ypc) appears to be the lone running back seeing action while Bryan Edwards and Hayden Hurst lead the team with 10 receptions apiece. Are these Carolina's top playmakers? Are there others who are proven, but haven't been effective to this point this year?

GABA's James Shahid:

After two games, yes. Turner, Edwards and Hurst are the Gamecocks making the majority of the plays. That said, receiver Deebo Samuel is a guy everyone is waiting for to have a breakout game and solidify himself as the first playmaking option, and I hope that game can come against the Pirates - there’s no better stage for him to achieve it on than the home opener.

We have nice options other than Hurst at tight end and I like what I saw from K.C. Crosby last weekend. Another guy to keep an eye on who may shock the stands Saturday is quarterback turned receiver Lorezno Nunez. While he still has a long way to come adjusting to the role of pass catcher, you’ve got to think Roper has some kind of wildcat package for he’s might find himself ready to unleash should the offense struggle to move the ball.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Will Muschamp, a highly-respected defensive coordinator, brought Travaris Robinson with him from Auburn to be his DC. Their relationship goes back more than a decade during Muschamp's first stint on the plains and then they've spent the last 5 years together (2011-14 @ Florida, 2015 @ Auburn). He was the defensive backs coach at both of those stops. Does Coach Muschamp make the calls during the game or how is that handled? What scheme are the Gamecocks' employing on D? Strengths? Weaknesses?

GABA's James Shahid:

I’m not entirely sure if Muschamp ever officially announced who’d be calling the plays for the Gamecocks defense, but I could be wrong. It’s happened quite a few times before. You have to think everything runs through Muschamp on the defense and he has the final say as to what they’re running.

Schematically, Muschamp runs a base 4-3 look that features multiple formations and can at times can look more like a 3-4 pre-snap. The defense’s biggest stength is its linebacker core led by T.J. Holloman and Bryson Allen-Williams. The pass rush hasn’t been consistent enough from the d-line and there’s going to be question marks all season in the secondary even with JUCO transfer Jamarcus Williams providing an immediate impact.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

The kicking and punting aspect of the Gamecocks' Special Teams appear to be very solid. Elliott Fry is 2-for-3 on field goals with a long of 55 after going 20-for-28 last season. Meanwhile, punter Sean Kelly is averaging 44.5 yards on 14 punts and has placed 5 inside the 20 yard line. How have the return teams and coverage units been?

GABA's James Shahid:

To say the least, the return game got off to quite the shaky start in week one after A.J. Turner couldn’t decide whether to take a knee or not on the opening kickoff and Deebo Samuel muffed his first attempt at a punt return. Both those guys looked more solid against Mississippi St. and both possess the breakaway speed capable of making a game changing impact on special teams. Another sleeper out there fielding kicks is cornerback Rashad Fenton, arguably the fastest player on the roster.

In other news you’re spot on about how solid Fry and Kelly are. They two may just be our most important and impactful players thus far.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Lastly, these programs have had some excellent games over the years. The Gamecocks dominated early in the series winning the first eight games. East Carolina then won five of the next seven from 1991 to 1999. Carolina has won the last three. After this year, the teams appear to have three games scheduled in the future. The Gamecocks are slated to come to Greenville in 2019 and 2021 while the Pirates will visit Williams-Brice again in 2020.

What do Gamecock fans think about the series with East Carolina?

GABA's James Shahid:

This questions makes me laugh because as grateful as we are with the last three victories and enjoy the solid non-conference competition ECU provides, I think the Pirates have a legitimate chance for a victory Saturday if the South Carolina defense can’t find a way to slow down Philip Nelson and we’ll be cursing them back to North Carolina.

That’s interesting though. I didn’t realize we were scheduled to make some trips to Greenville in the future. It may have to be an away game I make the trek to. Personally, I really enjoyed the battle in Charlotte in 2011 and would like to see that happen again.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Lastly, what do you feel are South Carolina's Keys to Victory in Saturday's home opener against East Carolina?

GABA's James Shahid:

The big two have to be improved tackling for the Gamecocks' defense and a dominant performance out of the offensive line. Couple those two with a solid rushing attack that keeps the Gamecocks' offense on the field and Philip Nelson off and I think South Carolina pulls out the victory in Will Muschamp’s first home game as a Gamecock.