South Carolina Gamecocks Prepare for First Battle With Nation’s Best

The South Carolina Gamecocks prepare to host the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. It is the first of three games with the nation's top ranked teams.
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 31: South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Shi Smith (13) returns the opening kickoff during the Belk College Kickoff game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the North Carolina Tar Heels on August 31, 2019 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte,NC. (Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In the offseason, Coach Will Muschamp said he looked at the nation’s toughest schedule as an opportunity for his program. This week, his South Carolina Gamecocks prepare for Alabama, one of the nation’s best teams for the first, but certainly not the last time this season. They are one of two teams, along with the Texas A&M Aggies, that play each of the top three ranked teams in the country. The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide travel to Columbia this weekend, as both teams open their 2019 SEC slate.

Gamecocks Prepare for Battle With Nation’s Best

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have not lost to an SEC East opponent since 2010. That was one of the truly magical days in Gamecock football history. Stephen Garcia was nearly flawless, and the defense was disruptive as top-ranked Alabama fell 35-21 at Williams-Brice Stadium. That game has absolutely no bearing on this Saturday’s contest, but it’s a fun game to remember for those in garnet and black.

Coach Saban’s defense is as strong as ever, despite losing a few linebackers before the season. They have allowed just 13 total points in two wins. Tua Tagovailoa is one of the Heisman front runners, and he leads the Tide’s explosive offense. He also has the deepest group of wide receivers in the country to throw the ball to. South Carolina will need to be at its best to have a chance this weekend.

A Fresh Start

South Carolina was sloppy and sluggish in their disappointing defeat to the UNC Tar Heels in week one. Senior quarterback Jake Bentley injured his foot at the end of the game and will be out for the season. Whether good or bad, he has been as synonymous as any other player with the Muschamp era of this program. Without him, this team and program have a bit of a fresh start with a new man under center. This past Saturday, freshman Ryan Hilinski took over the starting job and looked right at home.

The highly touted quarterback looked calm, comfortable, and confident in his first career start. Level of opposition aside, he didn’t seem phased with the stage he was on. That stage will get a heck of a lot bigger and brighter with Alabama coming to town. His ability to limit mistakes and get the ball to his skill players will be key moving forward.

As the Gamecocks prepare for Alabama, their first SEC contest, they know everyone must raise the level of focus and intensity. With a true freshman at quarterback, playmakers Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith will need to be at their best. They can take some pressure off their teammate with their performance. Hilinski started off his first career start completing 16 of his first 18 passes. The 16th completion was a 60-yard touchdown connection with Edwards. The young signal-caller showed off his arm with a 40-yard rope, which his senior receiver took the rest of the way. This offense seemed to rally around their new quarterback, but they must prove they can deliver a consistent performance at that level. That task gets much tougher from here on out.

Re-Write the Narrative

Unfortunately, the most consistent theme of the Muschamp era has been the team’s shortcomings in big games. The numbers on this subject can be slightly misleading, as this program has beaten some good teams recently. Even with that said, a 1-11 mark against ranked opponents is not pretty. However, as the coach said in the preseason, this schedule is filled with opportunity. The Gamecocks prepare for Alabama as a 25.5 point underdog. It is a chance to make a big statement, but what that statement is remains to be seen.

Winning and losing always matters, and that will be no different on Saturday. South Carolina needs to win a big game against a highly-ranked opponent. In regards to how this team has fared in big games under coach Muschamp, they at the very least need to perform regardless of the outcome. This isn’t about moral victories. However, the Gamecocks have not just struggled to win games against ranked teams, in many cases, they have fallen flat in terms of playing their best football. This team is going to have to fight each week to win. They need to become consistent in their performance in order to survive their daunting schedule. South Carolina needs to show they can compete with anyone, and have the focus to play at a high level each week. This weekend can begin that process against one of the nation’s best.

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