Coach Will Muschamp’s team is leaning heavy on replacement players. That means South Carolina’s bye week couldn’t come at a better time. Winners of two in a row, but very banged up, the Gamecocks can make good use of the break. So far this season, six starters have missed multiple games due to injury. With so much focus on who is missing, sometimes people overlook the replacement and their contributions.
Getting Lined Up
Three of the five opening week starters on the offensive line have missed two or more games. With a unit already struggling at times, mixing and matching across the front has made things more difficult. Zach Bailey, Cory Helms, and Malik Young all have been nursing lower leg injuries over the last few weeks. After slow starts, the line has had two of its better games all year with very good second halves the last two weeks.
Blake Camper – The 6’8”, 310 pound junior has filled in nicely at right tackle. He has the prototypical size you would want in a tackle. When Bailey went down against Kentucky, Malik Young stepped into that spot, but he also got hurt. The big man from Virginia then came in as a replacement. Camper has looked good enough that he may keep his starting spot when the other lineman return.
Dennis Daley – The JUCO transfer was battling for the starting left tackle spot in the fall. He had earned the right to start just as all the injuries hit the Gamecock offensive line. He has solidified himself now at left tackle and like Camper should keep his starting job moving forward.
Sadarius Hutcherson – The true freshman from Tennessee was only a three-star recruit, but has done well in his first few months in Columbia. When Cory Helms went down with a leg injury, Donnell Stanley moved from left to right guard in his place. Hutcherson then stepped in to the left guard spot. He has started the last three games and fared well for a freshman still learning things. He may be moved back to a backup role, but he has a long career ahead of him in garnet and black.
Flexibility Moving Forward
The development of Camper and Daley at the tackle spots will help this line down the road. The Gamecocks now maybe able to move Zach Bailey back to the left guard spot he excelled at a year ago. Bailey is South Carolina’s best lineman and will slot back into the starting lineup somewhere when healthy. His versatility will allow line coach Eric Wolford some flexibility in finding which group will work the best.
Catching On Quick
When Deebo Samuel went down late in the 23-13 loss to Kentucky, many fans and analysts alike saw the chance at a successful season go down with him. Deebo’s big plays had carried the Gamecock offense to that point. Replacing him was not going to be easily done, nor would it be done by one player. Bryan Edwards was the other starter at receiver, and he has stepped up his game. He is in the top five in yards and receptions in the SEC through seven games. The Gamecocks have had to rely on a pair of true freshman as a replacement for Deebo’s production.
Ortre Smith – The freshman from Mount Pleasant, SC is becoming known for big plays. Smith is a big target at 6’4”, 220 pounds. After not garnering any statistics in the first two ball games, he then had a touchdown in each of the next three. Smith has 12 catches for 153 yards and those three score for the season. His size and catch radius make him a good target in the red zone. With the Gamecocks current red zone struggles, look for him to continue to become more involved.
Shi Smith – The second true freshman wide out has been starting since the opener. He is a smaller and quicker option than the other Smith. The Union native has started each game in the slot. He has been mainly used as an underneath possession receiver. He did have a 45-yard touchdown catch on a broken play against Texas A&M. It is both his only touchdown and his longest reception of the year. Shi Smith is one of the fastest players on the team, and it’s surprising he hasn’t been utilized more on speed sweeps. His 15 catches are tied for third on the team.
After being hobbled most of the season with a thigh injury, Rico Dowdle was finally becoming healthy. Then he went down in the victory over Tennessee with a lower leg injury similar to that of Deebo Samuel. A.J. Turner stepped in as his replacement and had his best game of the year. Turner had 14 carries for 86 yards and the game’s only touchdown. Ty’Son Williams had been rotating with Dowdle as the starter and will continue in the lead back role. Along with Turner, expect sophomore Mon Denson to receive more touches. All 14 of his carries this year have come in the last two weeks.
The bye week is here now, and it may mean that South Carolina can get a few of its guys healthy. Deebo Samuel, K.C. Crosby, Bryson Allen-Williams, and Rico Dowdle all have long term injuries and will probably not play again this year. However, the three offensive lineman should all be back in time to play Vanderbilt on October 28th. Most teams will tell you their motto is “next man up.” South Carolina has had to prove that. The replacement players have played well, and the Gamecocks sit at 5-2 heading into the off week. If the injured guys can come back and provide competition and depth then their absence could be looked back upon as a blessing in disguise.
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