The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will travel to Columbia to face the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday for the first time in 22 years. The two teams have met just five times prior with all five meetings coming in consecutive years. Louisiana Tech was a mainstay on the South Carolina schedule from 1991-95. The Gamecocks compiled a record of 4-0-1 against the Bulldogs in those matchups.
South Carolina enters Saturday’s game with a record of 2-1 (1-1 SEC) after suffering a tough 23-13 setback against Kentucky last week in its home opener. Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks will return to the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium looking to bounce back against an upset-minded Louisiana Tech team coached by former South Carolina assistant Skip Holtz.
Louisiana Tech makes its way to South Carolina with a record of 2-1 (1-0 C-USA) as well. The Bulldogs pulled off an impressive come-from-behind 23-22 upset win at Western Kentucky last week, handing the two-time defending C-USA champion Hilltoppers their first home conference loss in almost three years. The Bulldogs hope to carry some of that momentum with them to Columbia, once again playing the role of spoiler.
Louisiana Tech at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Life after Deebo Samuel
Perhaps more disappointing than last Saturday’s loss to Kentucky was the potentially season-ending injury to Deebo Samuel (broken leg). The do-it-all playmaker had served as the primary catalyst for the Gamecocks' offense and on special teams, racking up an impressive 474 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns in just under three contests.
The Gamecocks can’t replace Samuel’s versatility and big-play potential. However, the cupboard is far from bare. Tight end Hayden Hurst and wide receivers Bryan Edwards, should all see expanded roles and increased targets from quarterback Jake Bentley on Saturday and beyond. The question is, will their collective efforts be enough to make up for the void left behind by Samuel? A matchup against Louisiana Tech should provide a good proving ground for would-be playmakers to step up before the Gamecocks get back into SEC play.
2. Louisiana Tech playmakers
In years past, the Bulldogs passing attack led the way. It has been a healthy ground attack leading the way in 2017. Running back Jarred Craft, a 1,000-plus-yard rusher in 2016, already has more rushing yards (248) this season than the top three backs for South Carolina combined. Speedster Boston Scott also is a threat, averaging an impressive 6.0 yards per carry. Dual-threat quarterback J’Mar Smith completes La Tech’s three-headed ground attack. The Bulldogs run game is capable of causing problems for a South Carolina run defense that has allowed 150.3 rushing yards per contest.
The South Carolina offense will have to contend with a very talented pass rusher in Jaylon Ferguson. The junior defensive end set the Bulldogs’ single-season sack record with 14.5 last season. He racked up two sacks against Western Kentucky just last week. Ferguson presents a legitimate challenge for a South Carolina front playing without its top lineman, Zack Bailey (ankle injury), on Saturday.
3. Can the South Carolina run game finally gain traction?
The South Carolina ground attack was expected to be much improved heading into 2017. So far, that has not been the case. The Gamecocks currently rank No. 119 in the nation in rush offense, producing just 85.7 yards per game. The team’s top three running backs — Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner and Ty’Son Williams — have just 206 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown among them in three games.
A generous Louisiana Tech run defense could be just what the doctor ordered. The Bulldogs currently rank 107th in the country against the run, allowing 200.3 yards per game. They gave up a whopping 327 ground yards to Mississippi State just two weeks ago. This matchup holds promise for a floundering South Carolina run game to finally gain some momentum. If that doesn’t happen, it will not bode well for the USC offense moving forward.
South Carolina has some issues it needs to address this week following last week’s loss to Kentucky. The primary question is, who will step up for Jake Bentley in Deebo Samuel’s absence? This could be a make-or-break week for a struggling South Carolina run game as well. Additionally, the Gamecocks defense needs to clean a few things up, especially on third down.
The good news is that Louisiana Tech is just 1-7 against Power 5 teams under Skip Holtz, including a 57-21 thrashing at the hands of Mississippi State two weeks ago. The bad news is that Louisiana Tech is still a dangerous team with plenty of momentum after a big win last week. And South Carolina isn’t exactly playing at the same level as Mississippi State right now. Regardless, the Gamecocks are the superior team in this matchup, and I don’t think they will take Louisiana Tech lightly. Home-field advantage should go a long way in helping South Carolina avoid the upset as well.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Louisiana Tech 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.