Snap Judgments – Eastern Illinois @ USC Edition

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Welcome back to Snap Judgments, where we give only cursory thought to what we’re about to say before we say it. Today we look at South Carolina’s 46-0 win over Eastern Illinois.

Beamer Y’all. From the time he was introduced as the new head football coach at South Carolina, Shane Beamer has felt like the right man for the job. Despite his lack of head coaching experience, he came in with an energy and passion for the job – and not just a head coaching job, THIS job – that has won over the fan base. He understands the importance of public relations in his position, and has “won” every press conference and media session he’s had to date, which in turn has endeared him to the Gamecock fan base. The million dollar question remains – is he a good enough football coach to lead this program back to relevance, and possibly even compete for championships?

I don’t think we got our answer last night against a pretty putrid Eastern Illinois team from the FCS. But as far as tests go against putrid teams from the FCS, I’d say we passed with flying colors. The offense, defense, and special teams were good enough to make this game a laugher before halftime. EIU was the perfect opening opponent for a team and a fan base scarred by the Muschamp era, an era that divided the program and the fan base, an era defined by antiquated decisions on the field, and an era that made us wonder how long it would be before we would ever be competitive again.

There’s an old saying “it’s the hope that kills you”. In a recent episode of the fantastic TV series Ted Lasso the lead character says, “I disagree, it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you.” At the end of the Muschamp era that lack of hope was killing us all.

I have no idea where the Shane Beamer era will take us, but one thing he has done has reinstilled that hope in all of us. And I dont’ know about you, but that’s good enough for me right now.

Zeb’s not dead, baby, Zeb’s not dead. The most fascinating national story surrounding USC last night was the ascension of Zeb Noland from graduate assistant coach to the starting job in the season opener. To hear anyone outside of South Carolina tell it, we plucked some 37-year old finanacial planner from behind his desk at BB&T because we were so desperately thin at quarterback. I mean, we were desperately thin don’t get me wrong, but we had the good fortune of being able to turn to a guy who was a starter for two schools, and when he wasn’t a starter played behind a first-round draft pick in Trey Lance and a future NFL quarterback in Brock Purdy.

Noland’s final numbers (13 of 22, 121 yards) won’t get him on any Heisman watch lists, but his four first half touchdowns were pretty impressive for a guy who had basically retired from football. Hopefully Luke Doty returns next week against East Carolina, but it’s good to know we have a steady hand like Noland if we need him.

The Stable. The Gamecocks were able to run for 258 yards without all-SEC running back Kevin Harris taking a snap. ZaQuandre White led the way with 12 carries for 128 yards, and redshirt freshman MarShawn Lloyd and true freshman Juju McDowell both showed flashes in their debuts in the garnet and black. This may be the most talented running back room we’ve had since…heck, I don’t know when.

Jordan Rules. Jordan Burch had the standout play of the night when he picked off an Eastern Illinois pass and returned it 61 yards for the Gamecocks’ final score of the night. Defensive linemen return passes for touchdowns every week, but I honestly can’t think of a DL I’ve ever seen look so comfortable and smooth with the ball in his hands.

Beamer Ball II. Are we in a new era of special teams excellence at South Carolina? It sure looked like it last night as the ‘Cocks blocked two punts, which were two more than we blocked all of last year. We also came close on two more. The cool part is you could tell the coaching staff had watched EIU film and know how to exploit their punt formation.

The bad and the ugly. We get accused of being negative when we’re not always positive, so to stay on brand we’ll just point out a few areas of concern we saw in real time last night. One, the offensive line was inconsistent at best. Yes, we finished with more than 250 yards rushing and I don’t recall us giving up a sack, but too many times the undersized EIU DL were in our backfield too easily. That won’t fly against the likes of Georgia. Two, we had too many penalties. I’m hoping we can chalk some of these to overexuberance, but if Beamer truly wants to “look like a well coached team” we can’t be shooting ourselves in the foot so much. And finally, we simply don’t seem to have any breakthrough talent at wide receiver, which means…

Ring my Bell, I’ll be your Muse. Jaheim Bell and Nick Muse both looked like real difference makers on offense, and we’re going to need them to be all year long.

Clemson lost. Clemson lost.

Looking ahead. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, East Carolina is going to be a real test next week. Last night was a mere glimpse into what kind of team we are going to be in 2021, next week in Greenville will tell us if our optimism is warranted, or if we’re in for a long season.

Go Cocks.

First Take

I have a friend, let’s call him Munson.  Munson is a rabid UGA fan, and because his dad lives in Columbia and may or may not be a casual Gamecock fan (I’m not big into detail), believes he knows everything there is to know about our fan base.

We email a good bit, but actually  speak only about a dozen times a year.  One of those occasions is our annual preseason breakfast with two other big college football fans (Auburn, Wisconsin) to discuss our respective football programs and the outlook for the coming year.

When it comes around to me, like them I go into boring detail, position by position, schedule strength, staff changes, etc., and usually finish by telling the guys I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll make a run in the SEC East, but realistically we’re a 7-5, 8-4 kind of squad.

To this, Munson always says something along the lines of, “WHAT!?!  A South Carolina fan who doesn’t believe you’re going to win the national title?  I can’t believe it!  I’ve never met a Carolina fan who didn’t think THIS was the year!”

To which my reply is “What Carolina fan(s) are you talking to?  Seriously, I need to know so I can set them straight.”

At least that was my reply the first time.  Over the years my reply has become more expletive laden and smothered in incredulity.  Because, seriously, who and where are these fans of whom Munson speaks?

I’ve been aware of athletics at the University of South Carolina since about 1978.  I’ve been what I would consider a die-hard fan since 1987, and am a proud 1991 graduate.

With the exception of the Golden Era from June 12, 2010 through June 29, 2010, my life as a Gamecock fan has been fraught with misery.  With every one glimmer of hope came multiple doses of cold, hard reality.  And it was a stunning, bizarro reality at times – see Navy, The Citadel, Coppin State, Richmond, 63-17, Louisiana-Lafayette just to name a few of the most painful.  The point is this – I am optimistic by nature, but when it comes to Gamecock athletics my first inclination is to think the worst.

Which brings me to this blog, the brainchild of a gentleman you’ll come to know as T-bone.  He’ll be joined by me, Buck, and the G-man to give what we believe to be a realistic look at Gamecock sports – the highs, the mediums and the lows.   We’ll mostly focus on football, but will try to keep things going through basketball and baseball seasons.

We’ll sprinkle in some general college football ramblings, because after all it is the greatest sport known to man.  We probably won’t comment too much on the new women’s softball coach or the swimming and diving teams.  But we just might let you know about a new beer we’ve tried or a great movie we saw or a stellar new barbeque joint.

It’s a blank canvas right now, but we hope you enjoy what you read and will provide feedback on the content.  After all, I’ve heard people who blog about sports become rich beyond their wildest dreams within the first year.  I know I’m banking on that.

With that, I leave you with the greatest moment in the history of University of South Carolina sports.