It’s not surprising to Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman that South Carolina’s football team used its special teams to open its campaign with a win.
The Gamecocks – who visit the Razorbacks on Saturday at 11 a.m. – scored 21 points special teams in what turned into a 35-14 win over visiting Georgia State last Saturday.
South Carolina blocked two punts for touchdowns, field goal kicker Mitch Jeter booted two of over 50 yards and also ran a fake field goal that set up another score.
Second-year head coach Shane Beamer is the son of former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, whose teams were known for their special teams.
“I think it comes from his father where you win games with special teams,” Pittman said at his Monday press conference. “You look at Saturday’s game, they kicked an onside kick, they squibbed a kickoff, they faked a field goal that got them seven points. They got down first and goal on the 2 with a fake field goal.
“They blocked two for touchdowns, so special teams scored 21 points, basically. I think Shane knows how important, it’s a passion of his just like o-line is to me.”
Pittman sees a well-rounded South Carolina team, who won just two games in 2020 and then went 7-6 under new hire Beamer last season.
Pittman is happy to have his team’s SEC opener in Fayetteville.
“South Carolina has a really good team,” Pittman said. “A hard-playing team, really good in all three phases. Coach Beamer’s done an excellent job there and they’re playing with a lot of passion.
“So, we’re excited that it’s home. I think our crowd has proven that we have a good home field advantage. We need them here. 11 o’clock game, I know a year ago we went to Georgia and it was one of the loudest places I’d ever been in. Certainly their players had a lot to do with the success they had that day, but the crowd did as well. It bothered us.
“Certainly hope that we can get that same next Saturday that we had the first game of the year.
Beamer, whose team scored 23 unanswered points after trailing the Sun Belt squad 14-12 early in the third quarter, was on the staff at Georgia at the same time as Pittman was the offense line coach.
“At Georgia, he was (with) the tight ends, then the special teams coordinator at Georgia when we were there together for a couple of years,” Pittman said. “So, it’s like anything, you emphasize it, you have passion for it, hopefully your team’s a little bit better at it, and they certainly are. They’re really good on special teams. They’re a good team, but they’re a good team in all three phases.”
South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler, who lost his job at Oklahoma and transferred, was 23 of 37 passing for 226 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
“I like him,” Pitman said. “He plays like a guy that’s played before. Experienced, got a lot of poise. You just can feel his confidence through the film. Got a chance to watch the game, a little bit live as well. Any time you’ve got a quarterback, sort of like KJ (Jefferson) with us, he’s either going to have through the whole team confidence about him or he’s. the whole team reacts to me about what your quarterback does.
“You can see that a little bit with South Carolina. They believe in him, and he runs the show well for a guy that that was his first game, I thought he played really well.”
The Gamecocks emptied the backfield except for Rattler a lot against Georgia State.
“What’s amazing is their number one set was empty Saturday,” Pittman said. “Of course if you had Spencer Rattler, you’d probably want to do that. Where he’s most dangerous is when he gets out of the pocket. He can throw on the run as accurate as anybody.
“So, I think that’s the game plan for them. Maybe part of is trying to find out exactly what they are on offense. I don’t know.”
Marshawn Lloyd rushed 11 times for 30 yards and a touchdown and caught 2 passes for 31 yards and another score.
“I like the Lloyd kid, I think he’s a really good running back,” Pittman said. “ He’s been hurt a little bit in his career. But he shows a lot of speed, jumped over a guy on Saturday night.”
The empty backfield was likely a fact that Beamer has confidence in his offense per Pittman.
“I think anytime you go empty, you feel good about your tight ends and your wideouts and of course your quarterback,” Pittman said. “ They do a lot of things. In one game, there was a lot going on with options, with toss plays, with what we call truck plays. You know, down, down, pull.
“They did have a complement of inside-outside run, trying to get it out on the outside. Not necessarily with outside zones but more toss plays, option-type fast hitters, trying to get the ball on the edge. So, we’ll see anything they change or not. I don’t know.
Pittman is impressed with South Carolina’s defense.
“Anytime you have good linebackers, in my opinion, you have a chance to have a good defense,” Pittman said. “I think that’s a strength of theirs. So, they have six starters coming back, I believe, from last year. They’ve got a lot of experience.”
Asked about his impression of South Carolina’s quick turnaround under Beamer, Pittman referenced his own program.
“We won two a couple years ago, too,” Pittman said. “So, I think they’re doing a great job. I think they have a really good team. They ended up having a winning season last year in Shane’s first year. I think that was a heck of a job. I think they’re a really good SEC football team, but we’ve had time to get better as well. I have respected the job that they’ve done.”