COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer counseled his team this week not to let emotions overwhelm them in their season opener with Eastern Illinois.
“And I told the guys," Beamer recalled with a grin, "I'm in the same boat.”
The emotions and excitement are off the charts this week for Beamer, the son of Virginia Tech great Frank Beamer, as he prepares for his first game as a college coach Saturday night.
“I love to be the coach who could say I was so focused on the game,” Beamer said. “But that's a bunch of crap. Excited, I can't wait."
It's been a long time coming for Beamer, 44, who was a South Carolina assistant for Steve Spurrier from 2007-2010 before joining his dad's staff with Hokies. The younger Beamer had stops at Georgia under Kirby Smart and, most recently, at Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley before accepting the Gamecocks job last December.
It hasn't been easy to get to this point. Beamer had to make 14 hires for his 10-man staff after several coaches accepted the job, then moved on to other schools.
His latest staff upheaval may have the biggest impact on the football as one-time grad assistant Zeb Noland was named starting quarterback against Eastern Illinois. Noland was on the field prepping players in mid-August when expected starter Luke Doty suffered a mid-foot sprain and Noland turned in his whistle for a helmet and shoulder pads.
Eastern Illinois, of the FCS's Ohio Valley Conference, played its ninth game since Feb. 21 when it opened the 2021 season with a 26-21 loss at Indiana State last week.
Panthers coach Adam Cushing said his team didn't make the critical plays that lead to wins and the week has been spent tightening things up.
“We're going to play a heck of a team out there in South Carolina, but we're focused on us,” Cushing said.
Some other things to watch when Eastern Illinois plays South Carolina:
Shane Beamer said while Noland will start, backup Jason Brown will see the field as well. Brown, like Noland, is a transfer from an FCS program in St. Francis, Pennsylvania, and has worked hard to earn a shot a playing in the Southeastern Conference.
SEC LEADING RUSHER
Kevin Harris, the junior tailback who led the SEC in rushing yards last year, is expected to play after undergoing a procedure on his back. Harris has missed much of the preseason because of it. But Beamer said this week that the dynamic Harris, who had 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns last week, will be available to face the Panthers.
Eastern Illinois coach Adam Cushing said there were plenty of unknows in prepping for South Carolina because of its first-year staff. Cushing said despite his pedigree as an assistant, it's hard to know for sure what Beamer's offense and defense and special teams style will look like as a first-time coach.
“It's a little bit of guessing game,” he said.
South Carolina is planning on a full, SEC-style experience with a packed stadium and pre-2020 tailgating as fans return to the stadium after the limits of 2020 due to COVID-19. The school is encouraging fans to wear masks indoors except for when they're eating or drinking.
ONE GAME IN
Eastern Illinois's Cushing loved getting a jump start on the season, even if he wasn't crazy about losing to Indiana State. When he watched film, Cushing saw his players calming down and getting into good form.
“We played better and better and better and better into the fourth quarter," he said. “Everybody was doing their job better."
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