Friends, it’s hard to believe it — but the final game, and thus the final opponent Q&A, are already here for the 2022 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season. Color me super sad, y’all.
Today our 21st-ranked, 8-4 Irish will face off in Jacksonville in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against the 8-4, 19th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in the two teams’ first meeting in 38 years. The Gamecocks are hot off huge wins over Tennessee and Clemson to finish their season, and feature both a potential NFL-caliber QB in Spencer Rattler as well as the top special teams group in the country. Both teams look to be missing some key guys, but there will still be plenty of talent participating in this one to make it interesting.
So, in order to better understand how these two teams may match up, we of course reached out to our good friends at Garnet And Black Attack (GABA), the SB Nation one-stop-shop for everything Gamecocks. We were lucky enough to get a small team of writers from GABA (Site Manager Kody Timmers, Editor Katie Dzwierzynski, and Staff Writer Sawyer Evans) to tackle all of our questions, from the serious to the incredibly not-serious, and they provided some excellent insight that should prepare us all very well for the upcoming season finale.
So, let’s stop dilly-dallying and dive right in — one final excellent Q&A awaits!
1. Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer is now 15-10 in his first two seasons, with a bowl win and victories over Clemson, Tennessee, and Kentucky already under his belt. How has he been able to get things heading in the right direction, what do USC fans think of him, and what do you think the ceiling is for this program under his leadership?
Katie Dzwierzynski: Beamer seemed to come in with a clear vision for what he wanted this football team to be, and it seems like the players have pretty solidly bought into that vision. Beamer and his staff are big on the themes of family and brotherhood, and you can see the team doesn’t give up in games, even when things aren’t going well, which is a refreshing change after the Will Muschamp years.
Generally speaking, I think fan sentiment towards Beamer is positive — besides the better-than-expected win total, he’s also a guy who really wants to be at South Carolina, and you can tell he’s genuinely delighted to be coaching the Gamecocks. Beamer has also been big on social media and seems willing to go along with most anything the football media team asks him to do, so that’s fun to see as a fan (and I assume for the players, too). Fans have their issues with him here and there, as with any coach, but overall I think he’s viewed positively by the vast majority of the fanbase.
In terms of his ceiling, I definitely don’t think he’s reached it yet. He was here during the prime Spurrier years when USC was setting program records and he believes it can be done again, and based on what he’s already been able to do, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say he could get the Cocks back to the conference championship and top-level bowl games.
2. USC QB Spencer Rattler had an okay start to his year, but really caught fire near the end of the season. What does he do best, what happened for him to start slinging it like he did against Tennessee and Clemson, and how can Notre Dame hope to slow him down?
Sawyer Evans: Spencer has had this in him all season. The whole country has seen him do it at Oklahoma. When he is confident, he can do anything he wants to do on a football field. His arm talent is top tier when he has time. One thing Rattler started to do toward the end of the season was extend plays, which you did not see him do much throughout the year. Rattler caught fire early against Tennessee and has not looked back since. If ND wants to slow him down, put him on the ground. Simple as that.
3. What key South Carolina players will be missing from the game, either for NFL Draft or transfer or injury reasons?
Sawyer Evans: The Gamecocks will definitely be short staffed on Friday. Key losses include TEs Jaheim Bell and Austin Stogner to the portal, leaving us with one TE for Friday. WR Josh Vann will also be out due to injury. Starting RB MarShawn Lloyd also hit the portal, but he was basically a non-factor due to injury the last two weeks of the season.
Starting OT Dylan Wonnum will also be missing the game. On defense, first-round hopeful CB Cam Smith will be preparing for the draft along with standout DB Darius Rush. DT Zacch Pickens, who had an outstanding season, is also preparing for the draft. This is a lot of production and defensive talent out, but it is always great to see new blood step up.
4. What are the important names Irish fans should familiarize themselves with on both offense and defense heading into this match-up, and how has Shane Beamer’s squad also been able to pay homage to his dad with what appears to have been some excellent special teams play this season?
Katie Dzwierzynski: Offensively, QB Spencer Rattler is obviously one big name. In terms of the guys around him, South Carolina has lost several players to the transfer portal, injuries, and the draft already, but WRs Juice Wells and Jalen Brooks (though he’s questionable for the game) and RB Juju McDowell are names to watch. TE Nate Adkins had a big game against Clemson to end the regular season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he figures into the bowl game.
On the defensive side of things, Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith are freshmen who made a big impact all season. Jordan Burch and Marcellas Dial have also been key pieces of the defense for the Gamecocks.
As for Beamer Ball, it is alive and well with this team. Our punter, Kai Kroger, is arguably the best in the nation, no matter what the Ray Guy Award committee says, and Pete Lembo is a premier special teams coordinator. That unit has been so fun to watch all season and they’re a big reason South Carolina has an 8-4 record this year.
WR Juice Wells. Big play threat but will also rack up 12 receptions before you know it. Wells had 898 yards receiving along with six touchdowns in 2022. Wells is not Ja’Marr Chase, but he plays a lot like him.
RB Juju McDowell. Juju is not going to light up the stat sheet (although he can), but he is definitely a threat. Juju is a threat out of the backfield and has elite speed. With Lloyd out, look for him to make some plays on Friday.
EDGE: Jordan Burch. Burch was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, and he really showed it this year. Again, not the type of guy to have 10 sacks a season, but he is going to make the QB’s life hard. His athleticism and strength make any backfield a living hell.
S: Nick Emmanwori. True Freshman. All-SEC. Emmanwori stepped up early in the season after an injury and played like he deserved the spot in the first place. An incredible tackler who is not afraid of anything or anyone. Expect to see #21 in almost every pile.
The Gamecocks special teams unit is the best in the country, although the Irish unit is not to be slept on either. Kai Kroger has been beyond elite as a punter and was the main reason we beat Clemson. Mitch Jeter has been as accurate as anyone kicking field goals this season as well. The blocks come with aggression and good coaching.
“Beamer Ball” is alive and well in Columbia thanks to some help from special teams coordinator Pete Lembo. The Gamecocks have proven that special teams can win games.
5. Which Notre Dame players, if any, are you scared of entering this match-up (especially with Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey sitting out for NFL Draft purposes)?
Sawyer Evans: One of my closest friends is an ND fan, and all he talked about this off-season was Tyler Buchner. Although he didn’t look very impressive to begin the season, his athleticism showed. Athletic QBs have been known to hurt the Gamecocks, so I am a little nervous about him.
Another player that worries me is Logan Diggs. Diggs had a great game against Clemson (which we are very grateful for), but RBs like him are hard to handle. The Gamecocks have struggled against the run all season, so I could see him being a problem.
The whole ND defense scares me. They are a very physical group with a lot of talent, and we are very short staffed on offense. This doesn’t need much explanation.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Would you rather fight 1 leprechaun sized gamecock or 100 gamecock sized leprechauns— PWagon (@PWagon60) December 22, 2022
Katie Dzwierzynski: I’m very scared of birds, so 100 gamecock-sized leprechauns.
7a. FAN QUESTION:
Are there going to be.......Actual Gators at this bowl.....— Philip G OFD (@Philip__G) December 22, 2022
Katie Dzwierzynski: I hope not? Although Google tells me Jacksonville does in fact have gators. I suppose noted Gamecock and Gator Steve Spurrier could always drop by.
Also I have to tell you that for some reason this question is making me think of the “you’re telling me a shrimp fried this rice?” bit on Twitter, but I can’t explain why. I spend too much time online.
7b. FAN QUESTION:
The differences between alligators and crocodiles are small but important. Which SC running backs can tell the difference between these two reptiles, and how many differences are they spotting (snout shape, underbite, teeth count, webbed feet, color, size)— Tyler Butler Sr. (@tylerbutler95) December 22, 2022
Katie Dzwierzynski: I’m going to say Lovasea Carroll, because he’s the only RB with the word “sea” spelled out in his name (although it’s pronounced Lo-va-see-a), and alligators and crocodiles are water reptiles.
In terms of the number of differences spotted, I’ll say he could identify at least two or three. If we have any secret reptile scholars in the RB room, apologies to them in advance for not highlighting them here.
8. FAN QUESTION:
As a resident of NC, I’d like to propose a trade:— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 22, 2022
- Charlotte & the CLT Airport
- The Panthers
- MLB expansion team
- Charleston & the coastline between it and NC but you can keep Myrtle Beach
- RDU becomes Delta hub
- Hornets & CLT FC move to Raleigh
Kody Timmers: I’m a North Carolina native and resident myself, so I’m probably the best and worst person to ask about this and am therefore in crisis.
As a Charlottean, I don’t want Raleigh to have nice things, so I hate the thought of losing the Bugs and CLTFC. On the other hand, SC would ravenously support an MLB team, and getting Chucktown and all the SC beaches without the Dyrtle is a great deal as well. You drive a hard bargain.
9. FAN QUESTION:
You have to name your son one of these - which one do you choose?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 22, 2022
Katie Dzwierzynski: Spencer Swinney, Dabo is a terrible name for anyone to have.
10. FAN QUESTION:
Explain South of the Border to someone who has never driven through SC on 95— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) December 22, 2022
Kody Timmers: Hoo boy. Imagine an obnoxious, tacky park that’s a 1960s fever dream mashup of various roadside attractions while also being casually racist.
I rolled through there once out of curiosity and it was honestly just depressing. I see they’ve got a snazzy website now, though, so maybe they’ve put a fresh coat of paint on things since then (although they’ve not moved away from their cringe mascot, of course).
South of the Border is something that was neither asked for nor needed, but nevertheless, it persists.
11. FAN QUESTION:
"whats the best homefield shirt to have cocks on my chest"— Andy Rice (@HoltzRice88) December 22, 2022
Katie Dzwierzynski: I’m partial to this one.
12. Alright, let’s get down to it. Who wins this game, what is the final score, and why?
Katie Dzwierzynski: One of my roles on the Garnet and Black Attack team is serving as our resident eternal sports optimist, so as is my duty, I’m calling for a Gamecocks victory.
In the interest of transparency, I live in Chicago and generally cheer against Notre Dame (sorry, y’all!), so I’m channeling that energy extra into this game. I don’t have a specific final score in mind, as I’ve been operating on the NO THOUGHTS, JUST VIBES strategy this season, and it’s worked in my predictions about the outcomes of South Carolina’s upset wins over Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Clemson, so I’m going back to that well again for this one.
Sawyer Evans: This one is tough.. if the Gamecocks ride the momentum they have had, I believe we can give the Irish their biggest loss of the season. If not, I could see the Irish winning by a couple of scores.
I am in a good mood tonight, so I am going to be positive here. The Gamecocks will win this one 34-20 on the back of Spencer Rattler’s three passing touchdowns. Book it? We will see on Friday!
Alrighty folks, I want to give a massive shout out to Katie, Sawyer, and Kody for all their answers in helping provide us with all the above critical information heading into today’s game. If we didn’t wish them all the worst luck in the world, I’d say I am rooting for all of them to have as much happiness as possible thanks to their willingness to give us a great Q&A to finish off the season.
I encourage you all to head over to Garnet And Black Attack immediately to check out all their coverage heading into the Gator Bowl this afternoon, and also really think you all should give the site a follow on Twitter for any and all hard-hitting updates, analysis, and commentary before, during, and after this bowl game. Also, toss Katie a follow as well, and figure out whatever way you can start to more closely follow Kody and Sawyer. All three are well worth it.
Otherwise, that’s it for me. Time to sign off from opponent football Q&As for the season, and as always: Go Irish, Beat Gamecocks!!!