COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For the first time since 2014, the South Carolina Gamecocks will open regular season play at home.
Will Muschamp and company are coming off a nine-win season that was punctuated with an exclamation point thanks to a huge Outback Bowl victory over Michigan. Now, the Gamecocks are ready to take the field and hit someone who's not wearing a Carolina uniform following a tough camp.
"We've been grinding all season, all summer," said Gamecocks senior offensive lineman Zack Bailey. "I'm just ready for it to be here."
Carolina is 2-0 under Muschamp in season openers and they're hoping to continue that trend. For the players and coaches alike, there's no better place to accomplish that feat than in front of their fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"I know Columbia is going to come out this weekend," said Gamecocks junior linebacker TJ Brunson. "I know it's going to be a big game. First home game for however long it's been. It's going to be really big. So, I'm excited to see all the familiar faces and the new faces this season."
If the Gamecocks are going to get their fourth straight season-opening win since 2014, they'll have to turn back the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers with head coach Joe Moglia returning from being on medical leave for five months.
The Chants, who finished last year with a 3-9 record and are picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt's East Division, are led defensively by All-Sun Belt selection Silas Kelly. The sophomore finished his 2017 campaign with 75 tackles and is one of four defensive starters returning to action for CCU. Last year, the Chants gave up an average of 34 points per game. However, Coastal aims to improve their defensive performance under new defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders.
On offense, the Chants averaged just over 23 points per game last year. Returning to lead CCU is Kilton Anderson. The senior started just three games for Coastal Carolina going 49-of-109 for 1,440 yards and 11 touchdowns. Helping guide the Chants' offense is former Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell, who is serving as the team's offensive coordinator.
"Jamey Chadwell, their offensive coordinator, did a fantastic job at Charleston Southern," said Muschamp. "He presents a lot of problems for you defensively as far as the spread run game, some options principles, two receivers that can really run on the outside, five returning starters on the offensive line."
However, the Chants face a defense that only allowed just under 21 points per game and, according to Muschamp and Brunson, they've shown improvement over the offseason.
"Getting Bryson (Allen-Williams) back is huge," Muschamp said. "That really hurt us last year losing his edge presence because he is a guy that can win with speed on the edge. We didn't really possess that as much. Dennis (Wonnum) has always been a steady rusher for us. Aaron Sterling's been a nice addition outside. He really got some pressure on the quarterback late last season, has continued to progress well. Both Keir (Thomas) and Javon (Kinlaw) have done a really nice job of pushing the pocket inside. They're both very effective guys because they understand it's more about pushing the pocket and affecting the quarterback than trying to win on the rush.
"Once those inside players start figuring that out, they become more effective rushers down in, down out. So, I've been very pleased with how we've progressed in a four-man rush. Now, you've got to do it on gameday."
Offensively, the Gamecocks will look to pick up their pace of play under new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. The team worked with McClendon calling plays during the Outback Bowl. Now that they've had a full offseason with him, they're looking to show improvement as well.
"We're not where we want to be exactly yet, but we're striving to get there," Gamecocks senior tight end KC Crosby said. "We're taking the steps to get there. We're still striving, trying to get to that high level that we want to run our offense."
South Carolina hosts Coastal Carolina to open the season at Williams-Brice Stadium at noon.