South Carolina is looking to overhaul its offense in the upcoming season. They changed offensive coordinators before last year’s bowl game and will look to be more productive in 2018. The Gamecocks new OC Bryan McClendon is bringing an up-tempo offense and a more aggressive style to that side of the ball. He will be fortunate to have an experienced quarterback in Jake Bentley and a plethora of talented wideouts at his disposal. South Carolina needs to find a way to be more explosive in the passing game.
For the first time in a few seasons, they will not be relying on underclassmen. The young skill position players are growing up now, and have the experience and ability to make this offense a dangerous one. Wide receiver, in particular, is a group that is as deep and skilled as any in the SEC.
The Dynamic Duo
For all the talk about the returning of Deebo Samuel this off-season, their leading returning pass catcher Bryan Edwards is being overlooked. As a sophomore, Edwards had 64 catches for 793 yards and five scores. He finished fifth in the SEC in catches and eighth in yards. His frame and ability lend him to comparisons to former Gamecocks, Alshon Jeffery, and Sidney Rice. While he is not at their level yet, his production cannot be overlooked. Now, as a junior, Edwards has a chance to break out. South Carolina’s depth at receiver, along with the new up-tempo offense, should allow him to find more openings. The attention of opposing defenses will be stretched trying to account for Samuel. This should allow Edwards to benefit from that.
Speaking of Samuel, his return from injury has fans salivating, and opponents biting their nails. If he can stay healthy, Samuel can be one of the most explosive players in the nation. His shiftiness and burst make him a home run threat each time he gets his hands on the ball. Samuel was on pace for a historic season before a broken leg ended things in week three. The versatile play-maker had six touchdowns in three games of work, including two on kickoff returns. If he can remain healthy all season, Samuel could challenge for All-American honors. He is simply that good when he gets the ball. The up-tempo offense should allow the Gamecocks to get Samuel in some favorable match-ups, and continue getting him the ball in a variety of ways.
Depth of Options
When Samuel went down a year ago, freshman Shi Smith and OrTre Smith (no relation) had to pick up the slack. Both players saw their roles increase, and both were able to show their potential. The pair combined for 59 catches, 735 yards, and six touchdowns. Shi Smith is the smaller quicker receiver. He has the moves and agility to make guys miss, and has the most reliable hands on the team. OrTre Smith is a big body receiver, at 6’4” 220 pounds. He was solid in his first season but needs to develop in terms of using his size when going up for the ball. With a year under their belt, both Smiths’ should be able to increase their production.
Randrecous Davis, Chad Terrell, and Chavis Dawkins have all played sparingly during their short time in Columbia. Davis is a tremendous athlete but has had issues staying on the field. Dawkins and Terrell are still trying to break into the rotation at receiver. True freshman Josh Vann arrives highly touted, and could also get a chance to see the field. With the up-tempo offense being installed, a larger rotation of receivers will be needed to stay fresh.
Block and Catch Combo
The biggest loss from last season’s offense was NFL first-round pick Hayden Hurst at tight end. His production will be hard to replace, but the Gamecocks have a solid and experienced group returning at that position. Jacob August and K.C. Crosby will get the majority of snaps there in 2018. August is a huge kid at 6’6” 260 and will be looked at mainly as the block first tight end. While his blocking will get him on the field more often, he is also a reliable pass catcher. Crosby is more of a hybrid tight end, and much more a play-maker at the position. He had only two catches before an injury ended his 2017 campaign. But, as a sophomore, he hauled in 23 passes including four touchdowns. Evan Hinson and Kiel Pollard will also get some looks in the rotation at tight end.
Up-Tempo Offense Looks to Explode
Bentley has been running an up-tempo offense for most of his football career. He will now get to do so in Columbia. Entering his third season as the Gamecock’s signal caller, he will have plenty of options at his disposal. Coach McClendon has stated already this fall that he wants his QB to be more aggressive downfield. If clicking, the faster pace on offense will help create mismatches. Forcing the defense on its heels and making it reactionary, allows the offense to dictate things a bit more.
Samuel and Edwards will form one of the better receiver tandems in the country. The extra attention they command will increase the opportunities for the two Smiths’. Bentley will also have A.J. Turner and Rico Dowdle as reliable pass catchers out the backfield. A higher pace should lead to more plays, so the depth of options will help keep everyone fresh. If the Gamecocks can find a rhythm with the new tempo, they have the weapons to give opposing defenses nightmares.