Head coach Will Muschamp’s year one redemption job in Columbia went better than most expected. Thanks to a quarterback change, his offense increased its game scoring average by nearly two touchdowns. The Gamecocks managed just 14 points-per-game prior to QB Jake Bentley taking over; rolled up 26 after. It will be interesting to see where Hoover voters rank USC in the East. Most are torn between South Carolina and Kentucky as the “rising” team in the division.
Muschamp has a tough opener against a good North Carolina State team in Charlotte prior to traveling to Columbia, Missouri to take on the dangerous, high-flying Tiger offense. I’ll be a believer in Carolina if it can start the season 2-0. Until then, I need to see more. Fresh on my mind is a 56-7 whooping by Clemson on the same day that Kentucky beat Louisville 41-38.
Its week three home matchup with the Cats will be a highly anticipated game. UK has surpassed the Gamecocks in the East by winning three consecutive games in the series. Can Kentucky extend that streak to four? If so, the Wildcats will be a legitimate contender in the East.
-Head Coach: Will Muschamp, 6-7 at USC
-2016 Record: 6-7, lost 46-39 to South Florida in Birmingham Bowl
-Opener: Vs. NC State at Charlotte
Carolina returns ten offensive starters. Only two are seniors. QB Jake Bentley completed 65.8% of his passes for 1420-yards and 9 TDs. Impressive numbers for an early enrollee, true freshman. Bentley possesses excellent arm talent and displayed incredible composure for a rookie. RB Rico Dowdle (764-yards, 6 TDs) was another freshman that displayed tremendous promise. WR Deebo Samuel (59 catches, 783 yards) and TE Hayden Hurst (48 receptions, 1 TD) are all conference players. Offensive linemen guard Cory Helms, tackle Malik Young, and center Allan Knott comprise a capable offensive line. Much like several other SEC offenses, the Gamecocks will be vastly improved in 2017 and will pose demanding challenges for Kentucky.
Returning Statistical Leaders
-Returning Starters: 10
-Passing: Jake Bentley-125/190, 1420-yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs
-Rushing: Rico Dowdle-133 carries, 764-yards, 6 TDs
-Receiving: Deebo Samuel-59 catches, 783-yards, 1 TD
2016 Offensive Results
-Scoring 20.8 ppg (SEC-14th)
-Rushing 134.4 ypg (SEC-13th)
-Passing 213.2 ypg (SEC-7th)
-Total 347.5 ypg (SEC-13th)
Carolina gets its defensive captain back on the field after missing 2016 due to injury. LB Skai Moore was All SEC in 2015 after leading the team in tackles for three consecutive years. Moore is a highly respected player both in and out of Columbia, South Carolina. Muschamp’s defense finished 7th in total defense a year ago which showed improvement from prior years. South Carolina brings back its three top tacklers from 2016: safety DJ Smith (80 tackles), LB Bryson Allen-Williams (75), cornerback JaMarcus King (56), and cornerback Chris Lammons (53). Up front defensive tackles Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth return. The Carolina defense produced just 21 QB sacks a year ago. Rushing the passer is an emphasis.
Returning Statistical Leaders
Returning Starters: 6
Tackles: DJ Smith-80
QB Sacks: Brysen Allen-Williams-2
Interceptions: Jamarcus King-3
2016 Offensive Results
-Scoring 26.5 ppg (SEC-8th)
-Rushing 203.2 ypg (SEC-9th)
-Passing 208.7 ypg (SEC-6th)
-Total 411.9 ypg (SEC-7th)
Excerpts from Will Muschamp
On his team’s youth
“Year two at South Carolina. We’re still a very young football team. We had 70 percent of our rosters still freshmen and sophomores. We only have 11 seniors. 19 first-time starters last year on last year’s team and seven true freshmen, which those two stats tie for the most in the country.”
Thoughts about his offense
“I think offensively you see a bunch of are knowns and some competition. Competition is great because that breeds consistency in your performance. When you’re able to walk on the practice field and not have to motivate a guy to practice the right way all of the time because he knows he doesn’t practice the right way, he’s not going to play. We had that at multiple positions. You look at running back with Ricco Battle and A.J. Turner, two freshmen that played very well for us last year. Ty’Son Williams, a transfer that’s going to come in and compete for playing time as well. We’ve got depth, quality depth, at the position of receiver. Bryan Edwards had a fantastic freshman year. Randrecous Davis and Chavis Dawkins did start games as freshmen as well. We think we recruited very well at the position. OrTre Smith was a guy on campus midyear. But we have very good competition at the position, along with Deebo Samuel. Tight end, quality depth. A bunch of different guys with a different skill set as far as the things they’re going to provide for our football team. So excited about that position. And then we’ve got 98 starts back on the offensive line. I think we made a lot of improvements, really challenged those guys as far as their strength is concerned. But we have competition at both tackle spots and inside.”
On defense and Kentucky
“Defensively, a little different story as far as the known is concerned. We have a lot of unknowns. We’ve got some questions that need to be answered. Matter of fact, I was finishing scripting our first 11 practices last night, and our 11th practice is going to be a scrimmage, and that’s going to be D-Day for a lot of these young guys. We need to make a decision on the who and the what, who is going to be playing and what can they handle. We need to do it early, because we open up with NC State, then we go to Missouri, and then we welcome Kentucky at home, which we’ve all seen for three straight years.”