Bryan Edwards was understandably frustrated after South Carolina’s 20-15 loss to Appalachian State Saturday.
Edwards, as usual, did his part, catching nine passes for 90 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He was open in the corner of the end zone on the final play of the game, but quarterback Ryan Hilinski overthrew him and the game ended on a holding penalty.
But what frustrated Edwards more than anything is that he had little help in the passing game. Starters Shi Smith and Josh Vann both missed the game with injuries, as did tight end Nick Muse. To make matters worse, veteran Chavis Dawkins also left the game with an injury in the first half. Even Edwards got banged up, tweaking his knee in the second quarter, but he returned after halftime.
With a thin receiving corp, Hilinski had to rely on Edwards, running back Rico Dowdle (five catches, 67 yards) and tight end Kyle Markway (five for 43). The rest of the receiving corp was inexperienced. Freshman Xavier Legette have five catches for 42 yards, while walk-on Trey Adkins caught the first two passes of his career. Dakereon Joyner, the backup quarterback, caught two passes while Chad Terrell and Jay Urich caught their first two passes of the year.
With Smith, Vann, Muse and Dawkins all injured, the App State defense was able to key on Edwards and force other receivers to step up. The result was a host of dropped passes and an offense that was just four-of-18 on third down and struggled throughout the game.
“We just need more bodies, man,” Edwards said. “It’s the end of the year, so everybody’s dealing with something. The more bodies you have, the more fresh everybody can be and the faster we can play.”
Head coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday the rash of injuries at the position hurt the offense.
“You become very predictable obviously when you don't have a vertical threat that people have seen,” he said. “Obviously we think Xavier as a young player is very promising and he's got a huge upside and is going to be a really good football player for us but just hasn't done it consistently on our level, and it certainly limits you as far as some of the run boxes you're going to face aren't going to be very favorable and we've got to be able to get people off of us.”
With limited options in the passing game, it also made it more difficult for South Carolina to run the ball. The Gamecocks had just 21 yards rushing, which in turn put more pressure on Hilinski, Edwards and the passing game.
“When we don’t have the ability to run the football we are going to struggle,” Muschamp said after the game. “We had a bunch of drops. It’s hard to rely on some things in the passing game right now with personnel. … We just weren’t efficient enough on offense.”
While Vann and Muse are out for the season, the Gamecocks will get Smith and Dawkins back this week against Texas A&M. Smith had 11 catches for 156 yards two weeks ago at Tennessee.
Having the two veterans back should help with the dropped passes that plagued South Carolina against App State. The Mountaineers had a pick-6 on a ball that bounced off Legette’s hands.
“I think there was some traffic throws that were going across the middle, and a body flashes in front and you got to keep focused and stay on the ball and catch the back tip of the ball in some of those situations,” Muschamp said. “But the bottom line is, the ball hits your hands you need to catch the football and that's get on the JUGs a little bit more and I know [offensive coordinator] Bryan [McClendon has] done that with some of the receivers as we continue to move forward.”
What Muschamp and the Gamecocks need more than anything are more consistent players like Edwards, who set the school record for receiving yards with his touchdown catch against App State and is among the best receivers in school history.
“We're still trying to get that touchdowns record to make sure we get that as well, but he’s very deserving of any accolades he gets,” Muschamp said. “You see how he's competing on game day, that's the way he does in practice, that's the way he represents himself, our university, our program, his family. He is a first-class teammate, human being, and is about all the right things you want at the University of South Carolina.”
Edwards, who also holds the school record for number of receptions (234), is not concerned about records and accolades just yet.
“I’ve been so focused on getting ready for A&M and getting my body right,” he said Tuesday. “I will appreciate it after the season but right now I am just trying to get ready for this week.”