By Josh Hyber/Photo by Jenny Dilworth
Editor’s note: South Carolina’s game against Marshall has been canceled due to Hurricane Florence. The Gamecocks next play on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. ET at Vanderbilt.
Overreaction Sunday made its way to Columbia in full force this week after South Carolina’s 41-17 loss to Georgia on Saturday. The Gamecocks aren’t ready to compete in the SEC. Jake Bentley isn’t an elite quarterback.
Listening to sports talk radio callers in the Midlands has been Hot Take Central. The season is over. Will Muschamp can’t win big games.
But breathe, South Carolina fans, it was just one game. One game that, despite the score, had some positives for the Gamecocks. There are still reasons to be excited for this season and still positives to draw from SC’s first two games. Coaches, players and yes, fans, can learn from both lopsided wins and lopsided losses.
Here are some things SC fans should be excited about as the team continues its season.
South Carolina ranks fifth in the SEC in pass offense with 288 yards per game. Bentley has thrived in the passing game, throwing for 250 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against Coastal Carolina. He also completed 30 passes for just the second time in his career and threw for 269 yards against Georgia.
Deebo Samuel ranks fourth in the conference in receptions per game (6.5) while Bryan Edwards (5.5) ranks tied for sixth. Edwards also ranks tied for fourth in scoring and eighth in receiving yards per game (82.0).
Offensive line promise
When offensive lines are talked about on television broadcasts, or even by coaches, it’s usually negative about holding penalties, missed assignments or poor play.
But South Carolina’s offensive line has been a source of pride for Bentley. Through the team’s first two games, the unit has allowed just two sacks — one each against Coastal Carolina and Georgia. It also carved out cavernous holes against the Chanticleers as the Gamecocks rushed for 263 yards.
Moving Zack Bailey to left guard to solidify the interior with center Donell Stanley and right guard Sadarius Hutcherson has worked wonders. Left tackle Dennis Daley and right tackle Blake Camper have been steady as well.
Freshmen playing time
Playing in two blowouts has given Muschamp the ability to empty his bench in the third and fourth quarters. The Gamecocks have played 11 true freshmen. In addition to starter Jaycee Horn, R.J. Roderick, Josh Vann, Israel Mukuamu, Rosendo Louis Jr., Kingsley Enagbare, Ernest Jones, Jovaughn Gwyn, Dylan Wonnum, Rick Sandidge and Josh Belk all have seen action.
It’s important for Muschamp to learn about the group quickly. Two games remain before the coach has to decide whether to play them later in the season or use a redshirt on them.
But with Vann (WR), Mukuamu (CB), Louis Jr. (LB), Enagbare (DL) and Sandidge (DL) especially, the group may have to play larger roles soon rather than later.
While most other underclassmen have played sparingly, one that has played early and often is Horn. The cornerback — who began camp as a second-team cornerback but moved into the starting lineup as a nickelback — recorded three tackles and the first sack of his career against Coastal. At one point he even moved outside and bumped Jamyest Williams to nickelback.
“I thought he was calm. He’s a very mature young man,” Muschamp said. “And what I mean by that is … Young players struggle the most [knowing] when to focus and when the relax. He’s a guy who knows when to focus.
“When we’re in the meeting rooms, he’s dialed in. When we’re in walkthroughs, he’s dialed in. When we’re at practice, he’s understands those things.”
Despite trailing 28-3 to start the third quarter, Coastal had momentum on a drive coming out of halftime and completed a 20-yard pass to bring the ball to South Carolina’s 34-yard line. But Horn wanted nothing to do with that.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder took off on a blitz from the edge on 1st-and-10 and sacked Chanticleer quarterback Kilton Anderson.
Bryan McClendon’s play calling
While there were some eye rolls at Williams-Brice Stadium during the first and second quarters on Saturday because of runs up the middle, South Carolina first-year offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon has done a phenomenal job calling plays.
He has called plays that have allowed Bentley time to throw and given defenses reasons to think — none more so than the “Philly Special”-like play agaisnt Georgia in which Samuel took an end-around handoff from Bentley and threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Edwards.