South Carolina moved into second place in the SEC East with a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) play at No. 2 Georgia this week. Here are five things we learned about South Carolina from its last outing.
The Gamecocks want the threat of the Jake Bentley run: The sophomore quarterback had his first two career rushing touchdowns to go along with 47 rushing yards as South Carolina went into the game with the plan of having him keep the ball on zone reads more than he had in any other game. The reason for that was two-fold. First, the Gamecocks thought they saw an opportunity because of the way the Commodores defended the zone read on the edge, and second, because it now makes future opponents think that Bentley is an actual threat on the option play. “After I pull it a few times, it’s going to cause a (defender) to stop his feet for a few seconds and maybe allow our running back to break an arm tackle,” Bentley said. Bentley carried the ball six times, causing some fear in offensive linemen Zack Bailey along the way. “Sometimes, I wish he would slide a little bit earlier,” Bailey said. “It seems like he slides at the last second, and it scares me.”
A.J. Turner is now the featured back: Forget about who takes the first snap. It’s clear that the sophomore from Virginia is going to be coach Will Muschamp’s choice in crunch time. Turner had a career-high 121 yards against the Commodores, boosting South Carolina to its season-high of 212 yards on the ground. “We walk into meetings every single day, and rushing yards is our focus,” Bailey said. “We are tired of hearing the critics talk about how we can’t rush. Every day that’s our goal, and whatever we can do to get better, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The SEC is splintering: The SEC has split into the have and the have-nots, as in has some wins and has not. Three teams in the East are winless in the league – Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. In the Western Division, Arkansas and Ole Miss each have only one conference win. The four SEC teams South Carolina has beaten have a combined conference record of 1-18. Florida, which comes to Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 11, fired head coach Jim McElwain on Sunday. The timing for rebuilding a program in what used to be college football’s best conference has never been better.
Zack Bailey and Cory Helms help, a lot: Muschamp made noise last week about possibly not putting Bailey and Helms back into the starting lineup upon their return from injury, but that was coach speak. With the original right side of its offensive line back intact, the Gamecocks were much better on the offensive line. Helms left in the first half against Vanderbilt after aggravating his ankle injury but is expected to play against Georgia, which is good news because South Carolina needs both he and Bailey up front to reach its full potential.
All those sacks may have been Tennessee’s doing: After sacking Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano seven times, South Carolina didn’t bring down Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur once. “They have only given up 10 sacks all year,” Muschamp said of the Commodores. “Their longer passing game is a seven-man protection. They were keeping the tight end and the back in. They do a very good job schematically of getting the ball out. I think we were close on some occasions.” South Carolina is eighth in the SEC with 17 sacks, with almost half coming against the Volunteers.