USC FOOTBALL

Conference confidence

Win over N.C. State gives Gamecocks momentum heading into SEC opener at Missouri

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COLUMBIA - South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson believes the Gamecocks answered a few questions with their surprising start against North Carolina State.

A few, but not all.

South Carolina will look to carry the early season momentum of its 35-28 win over the Wolfpack into its Southeastern Conference opener this weekend at Missouri.

"We answered questions and I'm pretty sure there's more questions out there," said Brunson, a sophomore who led the Gamecocks with 16 tacks Saturday against N.C. State. "We'll take it a week at a time."

South Carolina got past the Wolfpack despite being outplayed on both sides of the ball. The Gamecocks were doubled up in yardage (504 to 246) and first downs (29 to 12). It took a final stand in the final minute of the fourth quarter after North Carolina State drove to the Gamecocks 10 to seal the win.

Next up is Missouri, which piled up 72 points and 815 yards in a week one win against FCS Missouri State.

"Is that possible? How many minutes did they play?" Gamecocks defensive lineman Taylor Stallworth said.

Missouri head coach Barry Odom started breaking down film of his team's 72-43 win, upset by the defensive breakdowns that let Missouri State move the ball throughout.

"We can't beat ourselves on errors that are day one mistakes," he said.

USC head coach Will Muschamp emphasized in his second offseason that South Carolina must be more effective at both running the ball and stopping the run against top-level competition. While those problems persisted against North Carolina State - the Gamecocks only gained 31 yards on 21 carries - Muschamp said his players made the plays when they had to.

"Overall, we got the win and that's the biggest thing," right tackle Zack Bailey said.

Bailey said the offensive line and running backs worked hard in summer practices to improve and believes that effort will pay off.

"People probably doubt us all throughout the year. That's for them to do," Bailey said. "We play ball. That's our job. They can doubt us all they want, but we're going to try and run it down your throat every time."

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said because of North Carolina State's strong defensive front, the game plan was to "throw the ball around." Bentley and receiver Deebo Samuel did just that. Bentley threw for 215 yards on an efficient 17-of-29 performance. He also tossed touchdowns of 6 and 39 yards to Samuel and 34 yards to tailback Rico Dowdle.

Samuel, who caught five passes for 83 yards, also had an electrifying 97-yard kickoff return TD to start the game.

Bentley said the offensive game plan will be different this week to take away Missouri's fast-paced schemes. The Gamecocks will try to control the ball and keep their defense off the field as much as possible.

"We know we can run the ball against them," tailback A.J. Turner said. "We watched their last game against Missouri State. They put up a lot of points. They also gave up a lot of points. So we're going to try and take advantage of it."

Muschamp said Missouri will be the fastest team the Gamecocks play all year and it's essential his players keep sharp so as not to get swallowed up by the Tigers' tempo.

"Our guys have to have urgency on the line, got to have the eyes in the right spot because they're going to spread the field on you," Muschamp said. "cover down field, tackle in space and mix it up enough to where you're not giving them the same thing over and over again."