COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - While the season may be over for most SEC teams, only three are playing this weekend.
Georgia and Alabama will face off in a rematch of last season’s national title game in the SEC Championship in Atlanta. A little over 200 miles away, South Carolina will wrap up their regular season with a contest against Akron.
The game against the Zips was one that was long in the works after USC’s game against Marshall was canceled due to Hurricane Michael. The natural disaster may have taken a game off the schedule for Carolina, but it put them in a position to practice during “Championship Week.”
“It’s interesting how things work sometimes, how the Good Lord works in mysterious ways,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “Next year we have two open days. We practiced that this year, because of the hurricane. We had an open date, then played Vanderbilt, then had our normal open date that had already been scheduled. Next year we have five games, and then an open date, then we play Georgia, then we play six and have an open date, then play Clemson. So, we have been able to go through that process now. We understand that. The guys will tell you; I like to be able to practice things, regardless of whether it’s situational football. Our goal is to go to Atlanta, and if you go to Atlanta, you will be practicing at this time next year. We need to get used to practicing this week.”
While the 2019 SEC title game is still a long way away, the Gamecocks are focused on an Akron team capable of pulling an upset against a Power 5 school. Earlier this season, the Zips took down Big Ten West champion Northwestern. However, the Zips are currently 4-7. Even with a subpar record, the Gamecocks have no intention of overlooking Akron in their final game.
“We don’t ever overlook opponents,” said Gamecocks offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson. “We never underestimate a player. We treat every game like it’s a championship game.”
Akron averages just over 20 points per game, but the Zips can be very effective in the passing game. They average 201 yards per game behind the play of Kato Nelson. The sophomore quarterback has thrown for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“Kato Nelson, the quarterback, is a dual threat guy and can do both,” Muschamp said. They really use him in the RPOs and some in the run game. He throws the ball well.”
The Zips will be challenged by South Carolina, who gives up 235 passing yards per game.
Defensively, Akron gives up 388 yards and just shy of 28 points per game. Their goal is to stop Jake Bentley, who has been on fire lately. Against Clemson, Bentley threw for a career-high 510 yards and five touchdowns against one of the top defenses in the country. In fact, Bentley has thrown for over 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns in the last four games. Even though Akron’s numbers on defense are high, Carolina understands they’re capable of making things difficult.
“They have two pick-sixes against Northwestern,” Muschamp said. “They’ve done a nice job. You look at the two safeties that are really active in man and zone. They do a really nice job at linebacker. (Brian) Bell is very active. He makes a lot of plays. He’s from Lowndes County down in Valdosta, Ga. The two defensive ends do a nice job pressuring the quarterback. Todd Stroud, their defensive coordinator, is a guy I’ve known for a long time. He does a really good job defensively. His background is with the defensive front. He was with Chuck Amato at NC State, and they had some great defensive lines there. They’re well-coached. The do a nice job.”
South Carolina hosts Akron at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday at noon. The game can be seen on the SEC Network alternate channel.