The talk of South Carolina’s preseason has been about how well its offensive line can match up against N.C. State’s defensive line. The Gamecocks offensive linemen seem to be getting tired of hearing it.
“They have a good d-line,” South Carolina junior right tackle Zack Bailey said. “All four of them are good players, got good size, rush up the field pretty well. I am going to give them the respect they are due and on game day I am going to do my job, and we’ll see who wins.”
The winner of that battle likely will decide the winner of the game between the Gamecocks and the Wolfpack on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The fact that the N.C. State starting foursome of ends Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street and tackles B.J. Hill and Justin Jones is considered one of the best defensive lines in the nation is the big reason the Wolfpack are favored to win.
“Those guys have done a good job recruiting,” first-year USC offensive line coach Eric Wolford said. “Every pro scout that comes in here talks about all those defensive linemen they have. What a great matchup because that’s what we’re going to face when we play in the SEC.”
In fact, the N.C. State defensive line could be the best South Carolina sees all season. Chubb and Street combined for 31 tackles-for-loss and 15.5 sacks last season. That’s a sobering thought for the Gamecocks, who will have junior Malik Young making his first start at left tackle and Bailey making his first start at right tackle.
“I take that as a challenge, but I look forward to it because I feel like you can only be good if you go against the best,” Bailey said. “They are good, they are really good, but we’re going to be a good o-line.”
Running backs coach Bobby Bentley said this year’s offensive line is “a lot better to run behind” than last year’s.
“What Coach Wolf has done and the offseason program has done is brought some strength to the offensive linemen,” Bentley said. “There is more movement. There is more focus on the double teams maybe than before. With N.C. State, they are so good up front you better make sure you take care of those guys first.”
Sophomore running back A.J. Turner echoed Bentley’s praise, calling the difference “drastic.” The Gamecocks were last in the SEC last season with 3.68 yards per carry.
“We are definitely getting a lot more movement to the second level,” Turner said. “I feel like last year we didn’t really have as much. We didn’t have as many people who could drive people to the second level.”
Tight end Hayden Hurst will be asked at times to help as a blocker against Chubb and Street, but he has confidence that South Carolina’s front five can handle themselves, he said.
“It’s a different dynamic than last year,” Hurst said. “Guys are pulling for each other. There is a different camaraderie.”
Who: USC vs. N.C. State
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
TV: ESPN Line: N.C. State by 4 1/2