South Carolina put together its most impressive overall game of the season Saturday in a 48-22 win against Arkansas. It was the most points the Gamecocks have scored under coach Will Muschamp and tied for the most scored in an SEC game by a Muschamp-coached team. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Hayden Hurst is heating up
The junior tight end has 297 receiving yards this season, and 148 of those have come in the past two games. He had six catches for 76 yards against Texas A&M two weeks ago and two catches for 72 yards against the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks offense just seems to get rolling when the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder gets the ball. When quarterback Jake Bentley spotted Hurst across the middle early in the second quarter, South Carolina and Arkansas were tied 3-3. Then Hurst went 62 yards for the first touchdown of the game, and South Carolina reeled off 38 unanswered points.
There is offensive balance
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South Carolina still is not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, but the Gamecocks have plenty of places to go with the ball. Six players rushed the ball for South Carolina, and nine players caught passes. The Gamecocks gained 358 yards against the Razorbacks, averaging 5.3 yards per play. That’s less than their average for the season, which is 5.58 yards per play, ranking 10th in the SEC. In short, the offense still has to get a lot better, but there are pieces in place to build around.
Opportunism is mandatory
South Carolina wins games when it makes big breaks for itself. The Gamecocks got kickoff return touchdowns from Deebo Samuel in their first two wins of the season. In the win against Arkansas, it was three defensive touchdowns that powered the victory. At the moment, South Carolina needs to make the extra play to come out with victories. Five nonoffensive touchdowns at the midpoint of the season is a good step in that direction, and they’re the reason the Gamecocks are 4-2 at the moment.
The Gamecocks need rushing touchdowns
South Carolina took a step forward in the rushing game Saturday, gaining 159 yards on the ground, its second-highest output of the season, but the Gamecocks still need to prove they can run the ball into the end zone. South Carolina’s three offensive touchdowns against the Razorbacks were all through the air. For the season, the Gamecocks have four rushing touchdowns, which is next-to-last in the SEC. Only nine teams in the country have fewer rushing scores. If the Gamecocks are going to improve their offensive efficiency, they have to figure out a way to score on the ground.
The schedule isn’t insurmountable
The longer the season goes, the more it becomes clear the SEC East is not closing the gap on the SEC West (or at least on Alabama). In fact, the gap is only getting bigger. The Gamecocks have four conference games remaining, and all are within the division. That’s good news. Three of the four remaining opponents – Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida – have a combined SEC record of 9-8. Georgia (6-0) may be too high a mountain to climb for the Gamecocks on the road this season, but the rest of those games look winnable.