By: James Barkley, staff writer
Every year Wofford football gets the opportunity to prove that they can hang with the big boys, and their chance will come this weekend on Nov. 18, when they travel to Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. Having an impressive campaign thus far in the 2017 season, the Terriers will enter this matchup with the confidence to try and make a run at the Gamecocks. Not having played each other in a few years, these teams have changed dynamics and should make for an interesting matchup.
Wofford couldn’t have asked for a better start to season, as they rode a six game win streak until they received their first loss to Samford during Homecoming Weekend. However, the Terriers were able to bounce back the following week and beat East Tennessee State 31-24, and then the Chattanooga Mocs 24-21 in double overtime.
Carrying the momentum from last season, the Terriers picked up right where they left off. Experience has also benefitted the success of this squad, as Coach Mike Ayers said, “They understand better what it takes to win at a high level.” Making it to the quarterfinals the previous year, Wofford still remembers their close loss to Youngstown State University, and they will surely be using this as fuel to get back in that position. Those who played in that game will remember what it took to get there and that clearly has translated into the success of the team.
Wofford’s past two FBS matchups between Ole Miss and Clemson did not go their way, but they are catching a South Carolina team that is fresh out of rebuilding, which makes the Gamecocks a more vulnerable target. Unlike Wofford’s matchups against Ole Miss and Clemson, this game against South Carolina comes at the end of the season for the Terriers. No matter the point in the season, you can bet that the Terriers will be ready for the opportunity to show what they’ve got.
“They want to know. Athletes want to know: can I play at that next level?” said Ayers. These big time matchups gives players at a smaller program a chance to test the waters and find out for sure if they are capable of playing at a higher level.
The last time Wofford matched up against the Gamecocks was back in 2012, where the Terriers kept themselves in the game until late in the fourth quarter. Wofford stayed in the fight, and this was against a better South Carolina team than the one Wofford will face on Nov. 18. South Carolina has had a solid season so far, but has suffered significant losses to some of their more skilled players. The most notable injury for the Gamecocks was when wide receiver Deebo Samuel broke his leg against the Kentucky Wildcats back in week 3.
There is speculation that Samuel may return this season, but there is no telling when. Instead the Terriers will look to lock down on sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, who is the driving force for the Gamecock offense. In response to planning for Bentley, Ayers responded, “The biggest thing that you have to do is apply pressure and keep him contained. He’s a skilled athlete…you do the most you can to limit his opportunities with the ball.” Wofford’s defense will play a crucial role in keeping the team in this game. Although it may be a tough challenge, there’s a chance for either of the teams once they take the field.