Date: Saturday September 23, 2017
Kickoff Time: 2:30 PM CT
Location: Columbia, SC
Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: South Carolina leads 4-0-1
Last Meeting: 1995, South Carolina 68-21
Betting Line: South Carolina -8.5
From 1999-2004, Skip Holtz worked under his father Lou Holtz on the coaching staff at South Carolina. There was some thought that he was the head coach in waiting for the Gamecocks, but the administration went a different direction, and he ended up as the head man at East Carolina, instead. This weekend, however, Skip Holtz will finally lead a football team in Williams-Brice, except instead of leading the Gamecocks, he’ll be leading the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs into hostile territory.
Louisiana Tech Overview
The last time the Dawgs faced an SEC team, they were embarrassed at home by Mississippi State. That was a stinging loss, but State’s subsequent demolition of LSU brings up the idea that State might actually be pretty dang good. Regardless, few competitors will be ok losing in that manner, and they’ll want redemption. They get that chance this weekend, except they’ll be behind enemy lines this time around.
Bulldog fans have been spoiled the past several years. Senior quarterback after senior quarterback led teams headlined by names such as Kenneth Dixon, Trent Taylor, Carlos Henderson, Vernon Butler, Xavier Woods, and many others. In 2017, however, a sophomore quarterback is leading a team of talented but inexperienced receivers. There have been growing pains, and it’s been ugly at times. However, the WKU game showed significant progress. J’Mar Smith looked the best he has so far this year, and the team feels like it just needs a few more details to fall in to place to really get cooking.
The Bulldogs passed their first road test, even if only by a point. This week, the challenge will be stiffer and the environment even more hostile. They’ll need to bring their A-game. J’Mar Smith threw for just over 300 yards against WKU, but a few less drops and he could have had 400 easily. Smith has finally started to settle in; now he just needs his receivers to follow suit. Teddy Veal has stepped up as the go-to guy so far, with 15 catches for 133 yards. Rhashid Bonnette seems to be taking on the Henderson role as the deep threat. He only has five receptions, but leads the team with 185 yards and two touchdowns.
The run game has been solid so far. Seniors Jarred Craft and Boston Scott have a combined 428 rushing yards, and Craft has two scores. Scott hasn’t had one of his signature long runs yet, so maybe he’s overdue. It will be important for the run game to continue to lead the way while the young passing offense finds its rhythm.
The defense has looked better so far. Yes, they gave up 57 to Mississippi State, but the offense also turned the ball over three times. The offense seems to be finding itself, so that shouldn’t be as big an issue.
All in all, this is a very young Tech team that just needs time to gel. For their sake, let’s hope they make significant strides towards that goal this week.
South Carolina Overview
South Carolina started off strong, defeating NC State and Missouri, but last week lost their home opener to Kentucky. They’ll be hoping for a better result in their second home game.
Other than the Missouri game, the Gamecocks haven’t been stellar on the ground offensively. Despite rushing for 172 yards against that oh so vaunted Mizzou defense, they only rushed for 85 combined against NC State and Kentucky. Rico Dowdle is the main man in that category, leading the team with 34 carries for 98 yards and one touchdown.
What about the air attack? Jake Bentley threw for 304 yards against UK last week, but that only led to 13 points. Curiously, his least productive game was also Carolina’s best final score. They defeated Mizzou 31-13 despite only 187 passing yards. It almost seems like the fewer yards he has, the better Carolina looks on the scoreboard when all is said and done.
In fact, in both of their wins, South Carolina was dominated in the box score yet somehow won. The one time they weren’t dominated, they lost. Welcome to college football, y’all!
Basically, all of this means South Carolina is hard to read.
One piece of major news: there will be no Deebo Samuel on Saturday. South Carolina’s leading receiver is out for most, if not all, of the season. Half of Bentley’s passing touchdowns this season have been to him, and he’s the only receiver with multiple scores. Bryan Edwards has the same number of receptions (15), but 100 fewer yards (147 as opposed to 250). He has also yet to score. There are other receivers who can step up, but South Carolina will need to quickly figure out who else they can rely on. The fact the run game hasn’t exactly been on fire reduces the chances it can bail them out.
Deebo Samuel’s absence could be huge for the La Tech defense. With the biggest receiving threat gone, the defensive backs can hone in on the other wide outs. Plus, if the defensive line led by Jaylon Ferguson and Deldrick Canty can get pressure, Bentley won’t have Samuel to bail him out. With this in mind, it will be even more critical that Tech slow down the run game. If Carolina can run at will like they could against Mizzou, the absence of Samuel becomes much less significant.
On the other side of the ball, Tech has been able to run fairly well, but they will need the passing game to make progress if they want to pull off the upset. They looked much better last week, but they can’t win if they keep dropping passes. It will therefore be that much more vital that the run game continue working for Tech to take pressure off Smith and his receivers.
The line opened at SC -10.5, but has since drifted downwards to -8.5. Someone out there obviously believes in the Dawgs, and I think an upset is certainly within the realm of possibilities. However, I am not convinced this young team is at that level just yet. Nothing would really surprise me as an outcome, but I’d feel a lot better about Tech’s chances if this was a November game.
South Carolina 38, Louisiana Tech 27