Game Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: South Carolina opened as a 6-point favorite. The line has since dipped down to 3 or 3.5 points depending on where you look.
South Carolina comes home to Williams-Brice for the first time this season following up a comeback performance at Vanderbilt with a lackluster offensive showing at Mississippi State.
Here are three things to look for:
Will Brandon McIlwain start at quarterback?
The highly-touted frosh from Newtown, Pennsylvania has been the talk of the town since his stellar debut in the Spring Game, but it may still be too soon to hand him the keys to the offense. Senior Perry Orth has started the first two games for WIll Muschamp’s Gamecocks, but was pulled after halftime in favor of McIlwain. The true freshman has seen action in both of the Gamecocks’ games, showing the most potential in the second half in Starkville, throwing for two touchdowns in relief of Orth.
Unfortunately for offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, he has yet to see one of these two quarterbacks put together a complete performance. In Nashville, Orth was able to lead the Gamecocks back, scoring 13 points in the 4th quarter—thanks to kicker Elliott Fry. Fast forward a week, and it was McIlwain in that role, coming up short in a second-half comeback. I’d expect to see both play, and for Muschamp and Roper to go with the hot hand late in the ballgame.
Will the South Carolina skill players step up?
The question over who will the South Carolina quarterbacks distribute the ball to this season is still a major concern heading into Week 3. Freshman running back A.J. Turner earned the starting role over senior David Williams, impressing at Vandy with 70 yards rushing, only to gain 32 last week. True freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards was the surprise of the Vanderbilt game, hauling in eight catches for 101 yards. Edwards, similar to the rest of the offensive unit, struggled against the Bulldogs.
The one surprise up to this point has been the poor play from wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Samuel was the only proven playmaker returning on the offensive side of the ball and he has yet to live up to the preseason expectations set for him. In Samuel’s defense, he has only touched the ball a handful of times this season. Roper will need to focus his gameplan around Samuel on Saturday afternoon if he’s going to get his offense back on track.
Can ECU keep up the upset streak?
The Pirates have made a name for themselves as “Power 5 killers,” winning six consecutive games against ACC opponents. The one thing that has eluded the program is a win over an SEC foe. The Pirates traveled to Gainesville last season losing 31-24 to the Gators in a hard fought matchup, but the SEC team they have found on their schedule most often in their recent span of success has been South Carolina. The two met in 2011, 2012 and 2014—-all Gamecock victories—-with the Pirates leading late in the 2014 meeting. The last time East Carolina left with a victory in the series was back in 1999 when they exited Columbia with a 21-3 victory. Riding high from new head coach Scottie Montgomery’s first signature win versus NC State, don’t expect this team to be fazed by the atmosphere in Columbia.
So, what happens?
I worry about how successful either of the South Carolina quarterbacks can be given the options they have on the outside and beside them in the backfield. It’s rather clear that Muschamp would like to see McIlwain take over sooner rather than later, but it’s just as evident that he’s not ready yet. East Carolina was expected to struggle again this year, but following a 2-0 start, this team looks to be ready to move past a 2015 season where they failed to miss a bowl.
Prediction: East Carolina 27, South Carolina 21