COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s rare that you play for firsts when you’re a program that has been around as long as the South Carolina football team, but that’s what they’ll do Saturday.
The Gamecocks are looking to pick up their first victory ever against No. 7 Texas A&M. Since joining the SEC, Aggies have won all six meetings against Carolina dating back to 2014. This year, Will Muschamp’s squad is hoping to have a better showing after having to sit idle for a week following a lopsided loss to LSU.
Meanwhile, Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies (4-1) enter Saturday’s game fresh off a 42-31 over Arkansas.
Currently, Texas A&M ranks among the top five scoring offenses in the SEC, averaging more than 30 points per game. That starts with quarterback Kellen Mond. The 6-foot-3 senior has completed nearly 65% of his passes for1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns. Even though the Gamecocks have seen him each of the last four seasons, the improvement he has made from each year doesn’t make it any easier to game plan for him.
“He’s a really good football player, an experienced guy,” said Muschamp. “It’s very unusual to see a guy in his fourth year as a starter. To see where he’s come as a freshman and he’s continued to progress every year. One of his most talented attributes is his toughness. This guy will stand in there. Think about last year. We rushed him pretty well. We got after him pretty good and he got up every single time. TJ Brunson did have a targeting [penalty] in that game and it was a clean hit on the quarterback, but Kellen got right back up and kept on playing.”
While Mond can be a threat in the passing game, it’s the Aggies' run game that has been their calling card this year. The Aggies, who are among the top five in the SEC in rushing offense, are led in that department by Isaiah Spiller. The sophomore running back leads Texas A&M with 512 rushing yards and five touchdowns. However, Spiller isn’t the only back who can tote the rock for the Aggies. Sophomore Ainias Smith has also proven to be a threat in the backfield for the Aggies offense as well with 186 rushing yards and two scores on the ground to his credit. However, it’s his ability to be a threat as a receiver that makes him dangerous. Smith has four receiving touchdowns so far this season.
Over the last few weeks, stopping the run was a major problem for Carolina. This week, they look forward to the challenge of limiting the Aggies who thrive in the ground game.
“We’ve challenged our guys to understand what we’re getting into,” Muschamp said. "We’ve got to play the run much better. I think we’re certainly more than capable of doing that. We looked at some things schematically that we can do to help our guys and we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to get off blocks and play much better as far as disengaging and snagging and getting off guys. We’ve addressed some of those things and I think we’ll play much better.
Defensively, the Aggies are giving up just over 29 points per game. They are led by senior middle linebacker Buddy Johnson, who has a team-high 54 tackles along with two sacks. He is joined by graduate Michael Clemons, who leads the team with four sacks so far.
Facing a defense like Texas A&M could be just what the doctor ordered for Carolina, who hopes to improve on their point production with wide receiver Jalen Brooks in the lineup for the second time this season.
“We’ve done a lot of crossover work, he’s been able to work with Collin [Hill], and we do seven on seven, good on good,” Muschamp explained. “So, he’s had that work… so, it wasn’t like he wasn’t practicing with our offense at times. So he was probably further along than we normally would be if we weren’t going through this situation.”
South Carolina hosts Texas A&M at Williams-Brice Stadium at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.