Four factors to watch in the Gamecocks’ season-opener against the Wolfpack at 3 p.m. Saturday at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium:
Keep ’em off 19
First-time USC left tackle Malik Young has been assigned to protect the blind side of quarterback Jake Bentley, and doesn’t get a warmup game. He’ll have to do it against one of the nastiest defensive lines in the country. There’s no doubt Bradley Chubb and Co. will be gunning for Bentley, attempting to short out the Gamecocks’ offense before it can take advantage of its tremendous skill players.
Samuel and Samuels
The Gamecocks’ Deebo Samuel, an electrifying receiver who can catch over the middle as well as he can downfield and is a threat to score any time he catches the ball, will be targeted as much as N.C. State’s Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is a hybrid tight end/halfback/receiver who they find ways to get the ball to, and USC’s second and third levels are going to have to keep an eye, and several fingers, on him.
If the Gamecocks establish the ground game, they keep a thin defense off the field and won’t have to worry as much about keeping Bentley upright. They also run clock and win exactly how Will Muschamp prefers to win – milk the game and score one more touchdown than the other guy. Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner will all play and all may have several touches.
Trial by fire
The battle for place-kicker will be decided in pre-game warmups. Neither Alexander Woznick nor Parker White has ever kicked in a real game, but may be called on to deliver what won the 2016 season-opener. Elliott Fry smashed a 55-yard field goal to beat Vanderbilt last year. Will USC have the confidence to turn to either kicker in that circumstance?
N.C. State 31, South Carolina 24