South Carolina tried punt returner No. 4 on the season Sunday against Georgia.
And the day still ended with Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp openly lamenting how he assumed he’d be able find one player who could return punts on a Division I roster.
USC put tight end Hayden Hurst back there in an effort just to get possession, and it didn’t go well. Five Georgia punts came his way, he laid hands on none.
A couple went out of bounds, but balls he didn’t field were downed on South Carolina’s 9-, 3- and 3-yard lines. The Bulldogs got good field position after two of those drives and converted them into touchdowns.
Hurst gave way to Chris Lammons, who fair caught the one that went his way.
Several times, Hurst appeared to be in position to field it, but ended up waving off his teammates and letting the ball roll.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever punt returned in my life,” Hurst said. “It’s difficult to get a read on those balls. Ball was wobbling, looked like it was going to fall short and then took a heck of a bounce. That’s a tough one.”
South Carolina had tried three other players at the spot, and all had at least one muff.
All went off
The game Sunday had a little less buzz than usual. Then again, it was being played on a Sunday.
With Hurricane Matthew delaying the game a day, most things around the stadium went off as planned. There were fewer cars in the parking lot, more empty seats and a video board that took a bit longer to go on than usual, but there were no notable problems in pulling off a gameday.
Athletics director Ray Tanner said he was happy with how everything went, shifting things backs a day, and Muschamp took a moment to thank an array of folks for orchestrating the quick change of plans.
“I want to thank president (Harris) Pastides, coach (Ray) Tanner, sheriff (Leon) Lott for making this happen today,” Muschamp said. “It takes a lot of work and effort on those people’s parts to make this happen, so I appreciate it.”
South Carolina’s playmaker-starved offense got a boost with the return of wide receivers Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel, who missed a combined five games with nagging hamstring issues.
Samuel reinserted himself into a leading role on the offense with a team-high 90 yards on four catches, along with a touchdown run. Edwards had 35 yards on his three catches, including a 23-yarder.
“It was great,” Gamecocks quarterback Perry Orth said. “They’re big-time players, and they made plays for us. It was awesome having them back.
“We’ve got playmakers. It’s coming. I believe it.”
Samuel admitted he’d been frustrated by having to sit three weeks. He knew the injury wasn’t as bad as the one that cost him most of his freshman campaign, but he also saw his year interrupted on the first play of the second game.
“These past couple weeks have been kind of miserable for me, trying to stick with rehab,” Samuel said. “Now I got back out there, made plays.”
▪ Muschamp had a bloody lip during the game, and afterwards brushed off a question about it, saying he just cut it on the sideline.
▪ The lettering on the front of the press box at Williams-Brice was damaged when the edge of Hurricane Matthew hit Columbia. When the stadium opened Sunday, the remaining undamaged letters, put up in 2005 at the request of Steve Spurrier, had been taken down.
▪ South Carolina wore its “Big Game Garnet” uniform combination, garnet jersey and pants with a white helmet, a Spurrier favorite.
▪ This was the first time both teams were unranked when they met since 1997.
▪ Gamecocks captains were Buck Darius English, safety D.J. Smith, guard Cory Helms and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams.
▪ Kicker Elliott Fry is 12 points away from South Carolina’s career record and 18th on the SEC list.
▪ Georgia missed a chance for a Hail Mary late in the first half when Kirby Smart couldn’t get a timeout and the clock ran out.