COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer believes the 20th-ranked Gamecocks are surging forward, no matter how many players they've lost to the NCAA transfer portal or the NFL draft since the regular season ended.
South Carolina (8-4, No. 19 CFP) closed Beamer's second season in a stunning way — defeating then-No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 on Nov. 19 before ending the 40-game home winning streak of then-No. 7 Clemson, 31-30, a week later.
Since then, though, defensive starters in lineman Zacch Pickens and cornerback Cam Smith announced they are opting out of the Gator Bowl against Notre Dame on Dec. 30 while leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd and tight end Jaheim Bell both entered the transfer portal.
The defections have left some wondering if the good vibes from a strong finish are all gone. Not a chance, Beamer said Wednesday.
“I feel like some people might need a reminder of some of the things we've done here at South Carolina this past season,” he said.
“Maybe outside this building,” he continued, “there's a perception that the momentum slipped. That couldn't be further from the truth.”
After a week on the road recruiting, Beamer felt the excitement of prospects eager to join the Gamecocks along with his current roster hoping to cap the year with the school's first nine-win season since 2017.
“We're constantly trying to get the right people on the bus. We're trying to take this program to a place it's never been before,” he said. “There's bumps along the way. Sometimes, as you climb higher and higher, people get off that bus.”
Both Lloyd and Bell, who combined for 16 of South Carolina's 50 touchdowns this season, pulled the cord.
Lloyd, a third-year sophomore, led the team with 573 yards and nine touchdowns rushing. He added three receiving scores.
Bell was perhaps the offense's most versatile player who lined up in the backfield, in the slot and on the outside. He was second on the team with 25 catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Bell was second in rushing with 261 yards and three TDs.
Bell has announced his commitment to Florida State on social media. Lloyd has not selected his next school.
Also transferring is tight end Austin Stogner, the former Oklahoma player instrumental in Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler joining the Gamecocks. Stogner, who had 20 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown, decided to return to Oklahoma next season.
Beamer spoke with Lloyd a couple of days after the Clemson win and came away thinking all was good with his top tailback. Lloyd returned after a few days at home and said he was leaving.
“Obviously, when he got back home, some things in his mind changed that I wasn’t aware of or that we didn’t talk about that day,” Beamer said.
The opt-outs on defense were more predictable, Beamer said. Smith, the rangy, fast, 6-foot-4 defender, is considered a first-round draft pick next spring. Pickens, who turned down the pros last season for a final college season, projects as a second-round draft pick.
The departures make bowl planning a challenge, Beamer said.
“We played a lot of games with two or three tight ends on the field,” he said. “We're not going to be able to do that.”
Also new since the regular season's end is the addition of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who spent 2005-2020 on NFL staffs before coaching tight ends at Arkansas the past two years.
Loggains said the culture Beamer has built in two seasons enticed him to take over the attack. Loggains recalled earlier this season when he helped the Razorbacks defeat South Carolina 44-30 and didn't think the team would bounce back.
“I was kind of shocked at the way you guys finished,” he said.
To keep that going, Loggains knows he'll need to convince Rattler that there's more success ahead. The fourth-year passer threw for 798 yards and eight touchdowns (a school-record six in the Tennessee win) in South Carolina's past two victories.
Rattler is “the biggest recruit since my wife,” Loggains said.
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