The Gamecocks sit at 6-3 as they head into their final SEC game this weekend. South Carolina hosts the struggling Florida Gators on Saturday. Will Muschamp’s team has exceeded expectations for the second straight season. A win over his former team and they will secure a winning record in conference play for the first time in four years. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Gamecocks continue to find ways to win games.
Like always South Carolina will need to be at its best to secure that winning conference record. The Gators are reeling, but will still feel they can come into Williams-Brice Stadium and leave with a victory. That seems to be the predicament of Gamecock football over the years. They are usually good enough to garner to full attention of the quality teams they play, and rarely catch a someone overlooking them. Unfortunately they are not good enough to make struggling opponents feel over matched, so lesser teams still think they can get a win over them. This leads to long Saturdays full of angst for fans of the garnet and black.
Handling Pressure Moments
With such a young team, hit hard by injuries and still managing depth issues, it is difficult for the Gamecocks to put teams away at times. South Carolina has dealt with close ball games well under Muschamp, going 4-1 in one possession contests this season. Three times this year the Gamecocks have had to make a defensive stand in the final minute to hold on to a victory. As stated above, it’s not always pretty, but they find a way to get the win.
The Gamecocks had their three game win streak snapped by a 24-10 defeat in Athens this past weekend. The top ranked Georgia Bulldogs were just too much. The steady growth shown throughout the year was not enough to pull off the upset, but the loss gives them a measuring stick of how far they still need to go. They showed they could hang around with America’s top team, but that inconsistencies and depth of talent still pose problems.
Starting the Bentley
Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career. He has also had moments that make fans scratch their heads. He has commented on occasion about working on his footwork, and trying to settle himself early in games. While those things have improved, it is still a work in progress. Bentley has been good overall this year, and you can see his growth as the season goes on. His numbers are good, with 1986 yards at a 61% completion rate. There are still some plays being missed out there, and the Gamecocks scoring struggles have persisted because of it.
He has proven that once he gets in a rhythm he is a very productive quarterback. He has at times started games with high throws, and had to settle down before getting his accuracy on track. Bentley has shown the ability to do that, and once he gets going he can light it up.
Work In Progress
The struggles of the Gamecock offense are not all Bentley’s to bare. The offense still seems to be searching for its true identity. Losing play-maker Deebo Samuel in the third game took away the one true game changer in garnet and black. South Carolina has talented offensive players, but no one else like Samuel who can change a game in a single play. Bentley was able to get tight end Hayden Hurst more involved against Georgia. The junior had seven catches for 93 yards in Athens. He is a match-up nightmare for defenses and the Gamecocks need to keep finding ways to get him the ball.
A.J. Turner has emerged as the feature back in the offense since Rico Dowdle was lost to injury. Turner has 242 yards on 37 carries in the last three contests. South Carolina has struggled with its power run game this year, not being able to get the push needed to get things going. Their use of sweeps and off tackle runs has improved though, thus the quicker Turner getting more carries. Freshman wide-outs OrTre and Shi Smith, no relation, have also taken bigger roles throughout the season. Shi is now third on the team in catches and yards, while OrTre is tied for the team lead in touchdowns.
The Gamecocks secondary has not been at its best the past few weeks. For most of 2017 the defensive backfield had been exceeding expectations. They will need to regain the early season form so this team can finish strong. With so much youth on the field for Coach Muschamp’s team, it may be be surprising to see a group of seniors leading the way. Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith, and JaMarcus King are all in their final year at South Carolina.
Lammons has played all over, showing his versatility by lining up at safety and corner during games. Smith is a hard hitting safety that can be a tone setter for the rest of the defense. King has had an up and down season. He did not have a good start to the year, but has been much better in the last few weeks. Junior Rashad Fenton garnered a lot of attention for his lock down abilities. The last two games he has been getting targeted more often though, and he’ll need to regain his early season form.
So here the Gamecocks sit, with only three games to go and still a chance at nine total wins and a winning conference record. Despite a struggling offense, a thin defense, and more injuries than most, they are exceeding expectations. Next up are the Florida Gators. While he won’t say it, you know Coach Muschamp would like to add to his former team’s misery. This should lead to his team coming out fired up in front of a home crowd on Saturday looking to make this happen.