COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For one final time, the South Carolina seniors will play under the lights at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks, coming off a disappointing loss to Florida, will honor 20 seniors this weekend on Senior Night. Bryson Allen-Williams, Ben Asbury, Jacob August, Zack Bailey, Blake Camper, KC Crosby, Dennis Daley, Javion Duncan, Rashad Fenton, Danny Gordon, JT Ibe, Steven Montac, Keisan Nixon, Christian Pellage, Deebo Samuel, Michael Scarnecchia, Jason Senn, Donnell Stanley, Eldridge Thompson, and Malik Young will all be saluted by fans and teammates before Saturday’s game against Chattanooga.
“For this game, it’s just really about our seniors and what they have done for this program,” said Gamecocks junior quarterback Jake Bentley said. “They’ve been through a lot since they’ve been here and really just battled and really epitomize what we want as a culture here. They come to practice every day with the right mindset and just have done a lot for us. So, this week’s about them.”
Among those seniors looking forward to celebrating the time spent with the Gamecocks program is offensive lineman Zack Bailey. For him, the opportunity to possibly take a chance at playing in the NFL a year ago was there but coming back meant so much more.
“It really wasn’t even a question,” Bailey said. “I sent my stuff in just to kind of see where I was, but I was a semester away from my degree. I’ll graduate this December and my degree means a lot to me. I’ll be the first one in my family to get that. So, it means a lot. It was only a semester so it was like, ‘just knock it out.’ So I have something so I don’t have to go back. I’ll have something when I leave here. If the NFL doesn’t work out, I’ll have something to fall back on.”
The Gamecocks will take aim at their sixth win on Saturday. Standing in the way of that goal is Chattanooga. The Mocs are among the top 10 FCS teams when it comes to scoring defense giving up just 18.2 points per game. Junior linebacker Marshall Cooper leads the team in tackles with 89 while defensive lineman Isaiah Mack has the most sacks on the team with 8.5. Sophomore cornerback D.J. Jackson is the Mocs’ top defensive back with four interceptions.
“They’re very talented up front,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “Isaiah Mack…is a really talented inside player. All three of their big guys inside present some issues for you. They’re all 300 (pounds) plus. Thy move extremely well. They do a nice job in their four-down stuff, and they have a good three-down package on third down. He’s one guy that jumps out at you on tape. Karim Moore, number 2, is a transfer from Arizona State that was a freshman All-American at Arizona State. (He is) from Chattanooga and is a really talented corner.”
On offense, the Mocs average just under 23 points per game. Nick Tiano leads the passing attack with 2,456 yards and 15 touchdowns. The junior quarterback’s favorite target is sophomore Bryce Nunnelly, who has 74 catches for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns to his credit. On the ground, the Mocs have relied heavily on Tyrell Price. The junior has rushed for 656 yards and nine touchdowns on 181 carries this year.
If the Gamecocks hope to avoid being upset by a Southern Conference for the first time since 2015, they’ll have to shore up their issues tackling the ball carrier. The Gamecocks have surrendered over 1,100 yards over the last two weeks and hope to find some answers to what ails them defensively.
“We're a little thin at the safety position,” Muschamp said. “We are a little banged up at the safety position. We haven't been as productive at the linebacker position as we had liked to be. I think those two positions have really hurt us, as far as explosive plays. I think you go back to last year, Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith were both very good tacklers, and when the ball did hit the second level, in a lot of those situations, the ball was on the ground, from the standpoint of a six-or-eight-yard gain, as opposed to a twenty-yard gain and an explosive run. Things have kind of snowballed on us. We got worn down in the fourth quarter. In our last ballgame, we struggled to answer in those situations. I think there are a combination of things that have affected the ability of the tackling, and obviously, we continue work on it.”
South Carolina will host Chattanooga at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The game can be seen online on the SEC Network Alternate Channels.