The first half of the season has had some ups and some downs for the South Carolina (4-2, 2-2 SEC) football team. We take a look at three of the most pleasant surprises and three of the biggest disappointments.
THE SMITH BOYS
Freshmen wide receiver OrTre Smith and Shi Smith were expected to be frontline contributors just maybe not this early. South Carolina came into the season touting the pass-catching triumvirate of Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Hayden Hurst. With Samuel out with a broken leg, the timeline for the Smiths has been accelerated, and they have answered the call. Shi Smith has been a starter since the first week and has 14 catches for 186 yards. OrTre Smith has nine catches and three touchdowns, the second-most scores on the team this year.
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South Carolina has not been a shutdown defense by any stretch, but instead of being the unit that had to be helped along with a purportedly more talented offense, the Gamecocks defense has been the most consistent part of the game. South Carolina is 12th in the league in yards allowed (394.5 per game) but fifth in the conference in points allowed (21 per game). The bigger story is told in different statistics, though, such as the fact that the USC defense scored three touchdowns against Arkansas, is tied for the SEC lead in takeaways with 13 and is fourth in the league in red zone defense.
Head coach Will Muschamp has had big expectations for Brunson, but the sophomore linebacker was supposed to wait a year behind the likes of Skai Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams before taking his star turn. Instead, Brunson leads the team in tackles with 49. He started the season fast, notching 16 tackles against N.C. State, and has hardly slowed. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder leads the team in solo stops (28) and has 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Now that Allen-Williams is out for the season due to a shoulder injury, Brunson’s fast development is all the more valuable.
The Gamecocks were supposed to be able to score in bunches this year, and for a couple of weeks, they did. However, after averaging 33 points in the first two games they went through a three-game stretch in which they only scored 15 per game. USC had 48 against Arkansas on Saturday, but 21 of those came straight from the defense. The Gamecocks are ninth in the SEC in scoring with 26.8 points per game. They are 12th in the league in yards with 339.7 per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley hasn’t been perfect but he’s been very good considering….
THE RUNNING GAME
South Carolina will have to back up last week’s 159 yards on the ground before it can say it has found its running game. For the season, the Gamecocks are 12th in the SEC in rushing with 97 yards per game, and consistency has been impossible to attain. Take the case of leading rusher Ty’Son Williams, who had no carries in the first week, was the leading rusher in the second week, had no carries in the third week, was the leading rusher in the fourth week, started in the fifth week and was back in a reserve role in the sixth week. South Carolina’s 3.33 yards per carry ranks 112th in the nation.
If South Carolina fans had listed prior to the season the five players the Gamecocks could least afford to lose to injury, Samuel and Allen-Williams would have been on that list, and both likely will miss the remainder of the year. Allen-Williams, a senior starter, is definitely out after undergoing shoulder surgery. Samuel, a junior wide receiver, could return late in the year but there are no guarantees after he suffered a broken leg in the third game of the season. Samuel was not just South Carolina’s best offensive player but one of the most exciting players in college football before his injury. Reserve tight end K.C. Crosby also has suffered a broken leg and is out indefinitely, and offensive line starters Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young have all missed at least one game due to ankle injuries.
Who: South Carolina (4-2, 2-2 SEC) vs. Tennessee (3-2, 0-2)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: 107.5 FM