When South Carolina agreed last year to a three-game series with Appalachian State, the Gamecocks probably never would have imagined that the Mountaineers would come into Williams-Brice Stadium at 7-1 and knocking on the door of the top 25. What was always looking like a strong out of conference match-up suddenly has the potential to be one of the Gamecocks’ best victories of the season.
Needing two wins in their final three games to attain bowl eligibility, the Gamecocks have little room for error against App State, Texas A&M and Clemson. Ryan Hilinski has made the most of being thrust into the starting role after Jake Bentley’s foot injury, but Hilinski, a true freshman, still has spurts where he is prone to mistakes or simply can’t execute throws. Hilinski’s youth and overall inexperience didn’t seem to be a problem last week against lowly Vanderbilt, though. The freshman completed 24-of-31 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns en route to the 24-7 victory. Hilinski has also had 167 straight pass attempts without an interception, the best streak in the country at the moment.
What the game will likely come down to, though, is how effective South Carolina’s defense can be against App State’s offense. Quarterback Zac Thomas has 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions on the year, and running back Darrynton Evans has 798 yards and 10 touchdowns on 142 rushing attempts (5.6 YPC). For a Gamecock defense that has been in the middle of the pack in the SEC against the run (allowing 141 yards per game), Evans could be an x-factor.
There’s also the matter of App State losing just once in the last calendar year, and that loss coming last week against Georgia Southern. If the Mountaineers needed any motivation to go into a hostile environment and try to pick up a signature win, they certainly have it.
South Carolina should be able to hang with App State and use the home field advantage to their environment, but this is an incredibly talented Mountaineers team, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see them pull off the upset.
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