By now, almost everyone on South Carolina’s football team has seen the video circulating of Gamecocks offensive lineman Zack Bailey obliterating Missouri safety Cam Hilton during South Carolina’s 31-21 win last week. Jon Walton knows how Hilton feels.
Walton is the Gamecocks’ senior linebacker, and he’s had to face a pulling Bailey more than a few times in practice.
“It’s pretty rough at times,” Walton said. “It depends on who’s ready and who’s not. If I can catch him just right, it’s pretty good, but if he catches you and you’re wrong, that’s a pretty nasty sight because he’s a big fellow.”
Hilton weighs 180 pounds. Walton at least weighs 230 pounds, not that it makes that much difference against the 330-pound Bailey.
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“He’s moving at that size,” Walton said. “It’s amazing watching him run, especially when he gets up on the second level like that.”
“Pulling” is the term for when offensive linemen, usually guards like Bailey, don’t block the defensive lineman in front of them but instead sprint to get out in front of a play, usually to block a linebacker or safety.
“I love pulling,” Bailey said. “Being a pulling guard is the best position out there. Every time I pull, I try to hit somebody as hard as I can.”
Bailey, a sophomore from Summerville, has been South Carolina’s most consistent offensive lineman this season heading into Saturday’s noon game against No. 22 Florida. The Gators (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) are No. 2 in the SEC in total defense, allowing 267.8 yards per game.
“I think they are the best all-around defense that we have probably played,” Bailey said. “They are really good. They have some really good key players, and we have to make sure we handle them.”
Bailey has handled most everything put in front of him this year. He started five games last year, three at center and two at guard, and has started all nine this year at his natural position of left guard.
“Left guard is what I have always played since high school,” he said. “Last year was a little bit different at center so I was learning a totally different scheme. Now just being back to my normal position I think that helps me and now it’s just trying to fix the little things.”
Bailey and fellow guard Cory Helms compete each week to see who can have the most “pancake” blocks in which they knock a defender flat on his back.
Bailey “is one of our more devastating guys as far as pulling,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “Blocking in space is extremely difficult, and to be able to climb on the second level shows No. 1 he is a really good athlete, No. 2 he is a powerful man. Zack's had a very consistent year for us this year. He's played really good football for us, and it’s been consistently week in and week out.”
South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst has seen Bailey’s work out in front of him this season.
“He’s a big kid and when he gets that 300 pounds rolling, I’d get out of the way,” Hurst said. “He’s just so physical. When he gets his hands on somebody, there is no getting away. He buries people. It’s fun to watch him play.”
▪ Who: South Carolina (5-4, 3-4 SEC) vs. Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC)
▪ When: Noon Saturday
▪ Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (85,548), Gainesville, Fla.
▪ Series history: Florida leads 25-8-3, but the Gamecocks have won 4 of the last 6
▪ TV: CBS (Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Aaron Taylor, analysis; John Schriffen, sideline)
▪ Radio: 107.5 FM (Todd Ellis, play-by-play; Tommy Suggs, analysis; Langston Moore, sideline)
▪ Satellite radio: Sirius 108/XM 191
▪ Line: Florida by 11
▪ Weather: Sunny, with a high near 75