COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Former graduate assistant coach-turned-quarterback Zeb Noland returned to the field on South Carolina’s final drive last week against Vanderbilt to lead the Gamecocks to a win that snapped a nine-game Southeastern Conference skid.
“It’s surreal,” Noland said. “I told you guys, I thought I would never put the pads on again. I wasn’t sure I would get this chance again. “
Now the 24-year-old faces a much bigger challenge as the Gamecocks visit No. 17 Texas A&M on Saturday night.
Noland started the first three games but was hurt Sept. 18 against Georgia and didn’t play again until the final minutes of Saturday’s game. Luke Doty was injured against the Commodores and is out for the season after having foot surgery this week. Noland is back as the starter.
“The time being Luke’s backup made me enjoy all the little things about playing football,” Noland said.
Noland began his college career at Iowa State, then transferred to North Dakota State before joining coach Shane Beamer’s program as a grad assistant this spring. He likened his current situation to when he faced tough teams week after week while playing in the Big 12.
“This is what I’ve done my whole life. I remember we played at Iowa and then turned around and played at OU (Oklahoma),” he said.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was impressed with the poise Noland showed in the win last week but wasn’t surprised by it considering his age and all that he’s done in his career.
“The maturity and experience of not getting affected by things and understanding how to approach it and how to prepare,” Fisher said. “He came off the bench and led them to a victory.”
Noland will face an Aggies team that knocked off top-ranked Alabama two weeks ago before a 35-14 rout of Missouri last week.
Fisher was asked if this could be a trap game for the Aggies after two good wins.
“All games are trap games,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to understand the importance of your opponents (being) faceless, no matter when you play them. And I think that’s when you start to become a great program, that your practices don’t reflect who you play, it reflects how you play.”
SOUTH CAROLINA PLAY CALLING
South Carolina is 13th out of 14 in the Southeastern Conference in yards (348) and points (21) per game. The team was on the verge of losing to Vanderbilt last week, trailing late before Noland came off the bench to lead a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes of a 21-20 victory.
Beamer said he is confident in the play calling of first-year offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and thinks the key is better execution.
“You can look at why we hadn’t operated at a high level and it’s all of us, myself, the offensive staff down to the offensive players,” he said. “I look back on Saturday, I don’t think there was a play-calling issue. It may not always look pretty and I’m not sure what message boards are saying right now, but I’m sure they’re nuclear about bad play calls. But I don’t know about bad play calls.”
Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane combined for 292 yards rushing and three touchdowns last week to lead the Aggies over Missouri. Now the duo faces a run defense that ranks 74th in the nation by allowing 151.4 yards rushing a game.
Spiller ranks third in the SEC with 659 yards rushing this season and Achane is second in the league by averaging 6.88 yards a carry.
“The two running backs are dynamic, really talented,” Beamer said. “They’re just so patient running the football.”
Soon after Noland moved from graduate assistant to quarterback this summer, a Twitter account called Col. Zebuliah Noland sprang up that portrayed him as a Civil War-era combatant sending dispatches home to his mother.
Beamer said his wife and children keep him up to the date on the feed, but he hasn’t looked at it yet. He and Noland have joked about how his story will end up as a Disney or Lifetime movie.
Who would play Beamer? “I’ll leave that up to you guys,” he joked.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.
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