Bradley Chubb and Justin Jones headline N.C. State’s defensive line talent.There is a subtle optimism building in Columbia heading into Will Muschamp’s second season in charge. They open the 2017 season in Charlotte against the N.C. State Wolfpack. South Carolina was one of the youngest teams in the country last year. While they should be improved based on growth of that young returning talent, a tough schedule could make progress hard to come by.
South Carolina Gamecocks Vs N.C. State Wolfpack
It is known how daunting the SEC schedule can be for teams. Add in games with the ACC’s Clemson Tigers and the Wolfpack, things get tougher. There will be no weeks off for the Gamecocks in 2017. With that in mind, let us breakdown the Gamecocks season opener.
This old ACC rivalry will be renewed along the South and North Carolina border to open the season. The Wolfpack start the year right outside the Top 25 and are seen as a sleeper in the ACC. They have a very talented group along the defensive line, and it will be the team’s strength. Bradley Chubb and Justin Jones headline N.C. State’s defensive line talent. South Carolina’s offensive line struggled last year, so their play will go a long way in determining this match-up.
Junior Ryan Finley returns at quarterback after throwing for 3,055 yards last season. The Wolfpack lost running back Matthew Dayes and his 1,400 total yards from last year. They do return four players who had 500 or more yards receiving in 2016. Jaylen Samuels is a difficult match-up at the H-back or tight end position. He only had 33 carries for 189 yards last year but was a big factor in the passing game. His 55 catches and seven touchdowns led the Wolfpack, and his 565 yards ranked second on the team. Junior Stephen Louis averaged 19 yards per catch last year, accounting for 678 receiving yards.
Strong Start Needed
The Gamecocks need to get some momentum going early on. Not only in this game, but in the season in general. That gives this game with North Carolina State even more importance. A win over a possible ACC contender to open the year could have lasting positive affects on this young team.
South Carolina will need to establish its run game early. The Wolfpack’s defensive front seven is their strength, and Kurt Roper’s offense will need to test them early. If they can get Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams some positive runs, it will open up the offense. A solid ground game is imperative, because without balance on offense, the Gamecocks could see their quarterback running for his life. Sophomore Jake Bentley has garnered a lot of attention in the off-season, but if the offensive line cannot protect him, it could be a long night.
N.C. State’s secondary is the weakest link on their defense. South Carolina wide outs, Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards, Hayden Hurst will need to take advantage of the edge they should have. If new o-line coach Eric Wolford’s group can hold the pass rush at bay, Bentley should be able to move the ball through the air. The offensive line will have its hands full with Bradley Chubb, who registered 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a season ago.
Coach Will Muschamp is known for his prowess on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the cupboard was near bare of defensive talent when he arrived in Columbia. In 2016, depth was an issue for this team. The defensive line needs to step their game up. The Gamecocks pass rush and ability to stop the inside running game are areas where improvement is needed.
Last season, the Gamecocks had a bend but don’t break defense. Early in the year, they allowed yardage but not points to opponents. As the season wore on and the depth issue took its toll, opponent’s points began to pile up as well. South Carolina did show an ability for creating takeaways, and will need to continue that in 2017.
Senior Skai Moore‘s return from injury to lead this defense cannot be overlooked. A two time All-SEC player, he should help in both the run defense and creating turnovers. Paired with Bryson Allen-Williams at linebacker, the position could be a strength. However, like most places on defense, experienced depth could be an issue.
Rivalry Stakes and Then Some
This will be a big season opener for both teams. The Wolfpack are looking to take a step forward in the tough ACC Atlantic Division. The Gamecocks look to continue building under their second-year head coach and return to contending status in the SEC East. A win to start the season against a fellow Power 5 Conference member will garner positive momentum. Add to that, the spice of a border rivalry and two teams returning a lot of offensive talent. The folks making the trip to Charlotte on Saturday should be in for an entertaining contest.