UNC Football: Know your opponent: South Carolina Gamecocks

Dec 30, 2021; Charlotte, NC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Dakereon Joyner (5) with the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Power Echols (23) defends in the fourth quarter during the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2021; Charlotte, NC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Dakereon Joyner (5) with the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Power Echols (23) defends in the fourth quarter during the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Ahead of the UNC football program’s season opener, Kevin Miller of Garnet and Cocky joins us to talk about the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Opening kickoff is just a few days away as the UNC football program prepares to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Charlotte on Saturday night.

As we prepare for the Tar Heels’ first opponent of the 2023 season, we spoke to Site Expert Kevin Miller of Garnet and Cocky, who provided us with some valuable insight on the Gamecocks.

See what Miller had to say in our full interview, which can be found below!

ND: Let’s start with Spencer Rattler, the Gamecocks’ star quarterback. What do you expect from Rattler in Year #2 with the program, and is there anything you’d like to see him improve on?

KM: Spencer Rattler was one of college football’s top performers at the end of last season. He was average at best for most of the rest of the season. His reality for Year 2 is going to be somewhere between the two extremes. He’s a gunslinger, so he will still make the “wow” plays, and he will still make the “dohhhh” plays. What the ratio of good to bad looks like will be one of the major determiners of South Carolina football’s success in 2023. I believe that if he can work on his decision-making just a little bit without sacrificing his confidence, he will be a top-half of the SEC starting quarterback with a top-3 upside. He seems much more comfortable in Dowell Loggains’ system than he ever did in Marcus Satterfield’s, so I expect a good year from Rattler. If he pushes that “good” into “great” territory, he can lead South Carolina to a record comparable to or even better than last season’s 8-4 mark even with the country’s most difficult schedule.

ND: What can we expect to see from South Carolina’s offense under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains?

KM: Dowell Loggains is a bit of a man of mystery. The former NFL offensive coordinator put out some really putrid units at the pro level, but he was rarely the only play-caller during his days in the League. Despite the lack of success, he kept getting jobs for 20 years, and his former players swear by him. He’s extremely charismatic, and players seem to love playing for him.

He will not be the typical NFL-to-college transition story as he is not married to “pro-style” concepts from the ’80s and ’90s. Instead, he is taking a much more modern approach to leading the Gamecock offense. 

Even though things were a disaster under Marcus Satterfield for the last two years, the concepts weren’t the problem. Expect to see a lot of similar offensive looks from USC this year but expect to see it in a much simpler package. Last year’s offense was too complex in the way it was worded (some plays were 13 words long), and it was too complex in the sheer number of formations and personnel groupings Satterfield used.

Loggains has vowed to be the anti-Satterfield in that regard, and his players have all spoken highly of that change.

The Gamecocks are going to be a “multiple” offense under Loggains, which is great if things go well as it keeps defensive coordinators guessing. However, if Rattler and the offense are struggling, the multiplicity of the offense can be a hindrance as the team doesn’t necessarily have its “go-to” plays or concepts. Carolina fans (sorry, I had to do it) are cautiously optimistic that it will work out. Regardless, it can’t be worse than 90% of the Marcus Satterfield era was.

ND: South Carolina lost a good amount of offensive weapons from a season ago. How did the program replace that talent, and who are some guys who could be in line to have big seasons in 2023?

KM: There is no doubt that South Carolina lost a lot of talent from last year’s roster. Several players jumped to the NFL, and several more left in the transfer portal.
On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest losses are receivers Josh Vann (NFL) and Jalen Brooks (NFL), tight ends Jaheim Bell (Florida State via the transfer portal) and Nate Adkins (NFL), offensive linemen Joaughn Gwyn (NFL) and Eric Douglas (NFL), and running back Marshawn Lloyd (Southern Cal via the transfer portal).

The biggest question in replacing talent is in the running back room. Lloyd left, former All-ACC back Christian Beal-Smith graduated after transferring from Wake Forest, and former 4-star prospect Lovasea Carroll had to retire due to medical reasons. Only Juju McDowell, a 170-pound scatback, remained. The Gamecocks welcomed 4-star freshman DJay Braswell and Newberry College transfer Mario Anderson (who was a finalist for the D-II Heisman Trophy last year), but neither player is a safe bet to be “ready” to be a lead back in the SEC yet. So, this spring, 6th-year Swiss Army Knife Dakereon Joyner moved to running back. He seems to have really taken to the position, and he is listed as the starter on the depth chart. Having played both quarterback (including as the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl MVP against North Carolina) and wide receiver at times in his career, everyone knows Joyner can play football. Can he be a legitimate back against good competition? We will find out.

Replacing the receivers won’t be as difficult, not because Vann and Brooks weren’t talented players, but because there are more talented players ready to contribute. 5th-year seniors Xavier Legette and Ahmarean Brown are both really fast and appear set to start the year as the 2nd and 3rd receivers behind potential All-American Juice Wells. 5-star Nyck Harbor (6’5″ and 240 pounds with legitimate Olympic sprinting dreams) is one of the biggest freaks in college football and will be a monster once he learns the position. 

The tight end room lost some important players, but the transfer portal was kind to the Gamecocks. Arkansas transfer Trey Knox and Western Kentucky transfer Josh Simon appear set to take on even more of a receiving load than Bell and Adkins did a season ago. Florida transfer Nick Elksnis could factor into the tight end/h-back/fullback blocking game, as well.

The offensive line is a question mark. The Gamecocks return a lot of players who have started at times in their career, but no current Gamecock starter on the offensive line was an entrenched starter for South Carolina prior to this season. Former Yale captain Nick Gargiulo will start at one guard spot, and the center position has been claimed by Vershon Lee, one of the on-and-off starters I mentioned earlier. The other three spots are still somewhat up for grabs. There is a lot of talent on the South Carolina offensive line, but there is not a lot of proven talent in the room.

ND: What about the defensive side of the ball: Is this group talented enough to stop a firepower offense (such as UNC)? Are there any areas within this unit that raise a sign of concern heading into this matchup?

KM: South Carolina led the SEC in pass defense in 2022. However, they lost two corners to the NFL in Cam Smith and Darius Rush. They return their third corner Marcellas Dial, who played a ton last season and has some preseason hype. They also return two Freshmen All-Americans from 2022 at safety in Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith. The secondary might not be quite as good as a year ago, but they should still be a good unit.

The Gamecocks might really struggle on the defensive line, though. Tonka Hemingway is a really good player, but he is kind of a “tweener” who can play defensive end in some situations and defensive tackles in others, making it harder to find the perfect spot for him in every matchup. After that, the rest of the front has questions. Players like Jordan Strachan and Boogie Huntley have injury concerns. Drew Tuazama just joined the team last week (!!!!). Jatius Geer has only played a Syracuse. The rest of the potential contributors are young and/or inexperienced. Like much of the South Carolina roster, talented players are on the Gamecock defensive line, but it takes more than just talent to perform well in high-level college football.

The linebacker core isn’t great. 4-star sophomore Stone Blanton and 4-star freshman Pup Howard will play a lot for a team that lost two 6th-year seniors off of last year’s team. Mo Kaba is coming off of an ACL tear and hasn’t been full-go just yet at practice. Debo Williams is a striker who loves contact, but he has struggled at times reading offenses and figuring out what to do other than “see ballcarrier, hit ballcarrier.”

Against North Carolina, the Carolina secondary will be able to hold up, even against the elite Drake Maye…as long as they don’t have to stay in coverage for too long. The Gamecock front must get pressure on the quarterback. Maye is too good to be given much time in the pocket.
Speaking of Maye, containing him in the run game could be a factor as well. South Carolina’s defensive ends and linebackers have to set the EDGE well while still getting pressure on the Tar Heel signal caller. If they can’t, he will find holes in the defense, either by stealing first downs with his legs or by using his talented arm to hit receivers after they’ve had time to escape the coverage.

ND: What do you think will be the key for South Carolina to win this game on Saturday night?

KM: Figuring out Drake Maye is the easy answer to this question. When Maye was just good instead of elite at times down the stretch last season, that was when UNC struggled. Losing the last four games of the season showed that there was a lot of truth to the belief that Maye is the straw that stirs the drink in Chapel Hill. Granted, that was also against some of the tougher competition he faced last year.

Past the obvious, though, the two team’s running games will be a big determiner in how the College GameDay-attended matchup goes on Saturday. Both quarterbacks should have good days against defenses with holes, but can either team run the ball to compliment their QBs and open things up more later on in what should be a close game? Can either team stop the other team’s rushing attack if they get into a rhythm on the ground? 

While the quarterback play is the “sexy” and obvious answer, the battle between two running games with some question marks behind them could be the next biggest key to the game.

ND: What’s your prediction on the final outcome of the game?

KM: Frankly, I believe anyone who has a ton of confidence in this game either has some inside secrets that they should share with the rest of the college football world, or they aren’t thinking too clearly.

Barring something completely out of the ordinary, this should be a competitive game in the 4th quarter as the two rosters are very even in terms of talent. The border rivalry has swung the Gamecocks’ way of late, but with this game not being one that is played every season, I’m not sure that matters for Saturday.

If forced to make a complete prediction on the outcome, I think a 35-31 win for the Gamecocks is where I would land. I think the North Carolina offense will slightly outplay the Gamecocks, but a special teams swing will be the decider. South Carolina should have the best special teams unit in college football again in 2022 (they are only replacing starters at punt returner and punt coverage gunner), and special teams coordinator Pete Lembo has a knack for flipping a game or two each season with his group.

Final Answer: North Carolina outplays South Carolina but falls due to special teams and/or a turnover swing. 35-31, the Gamecocks come out on top in a game after which fans from both schools won’t be able to decide just how good their team actually is.
Be sure to check out Garnet and Cocky for more information regarding the UNC football program’s opening night matchup with the South Carolina Gamecocks. 

Next. UNC Football releases official Week One depth chart. dark

Follow us @KeepingItHeel on X (formerly Twitter) and like our fan page on Facebook for continued coverage of UNC football news, updates, and recruiting.