When South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel tweaked his hamstring on the first play against Mississippi State in early September, he knew it wasn’t as bad as the hamstring issue that dogged him all of last season.
But that didn’t make sitting out the past two games any easier.
“These past couple weeks have been kind of miserable for me,” Samuel said. “Trying to stick with rehab.”
He was one of the players Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said the team couldn’t afford to have miss time. Even with the emergence of true freshman Bryan Edwards, Samuel gives the team exactly two wide receivers they can rely upon to consistently make plays.
Without him, USC had to throw out every true freshman receiver it had on the roster, and outside a decent day against East Carolina, the passing game cratered.
Then Samuel came out in uniform Sunday.
All four passes that came his way, he caught. He ran under a couple of deep passes, netting big gains, and fought through tackles on a short catch for another 14 yards. He even chipped in on the ground, fighting for the final 4-5 yards on a jet sweep for South Carolina’s first touchdown.
It all led Muschamp to one conclusion.
“He’s full speed,” Muschamp said. “It didn’t help us a couple weeks keeping him out, but he was not fully healthy and we needed to get him back this week.”
The team could’ve used him last season as well, when the passing game relied almost entirely on Pharoh Cooper and Jerell Adams. He missed the first seven games with the hamstring issue, and then was slow to come on until the final couple weeks.
His 90 yards through the air was enough to push him to third on the team in receiving yards despite being fifth in catches.
Sunday, his output tied for the second-most receiving yards of any Gamecock this season.
“I feel like I was out there playing as fast as I could,” Samuel said.
USC heads into its bye week looking to get even more rehab for Samuel, Edwards (missed a game with a hamstring) and Randrecous Davis, who missed the past three games with a hamstring after a spot start.
Considering how starved USC was for playmakers the previous few weeks, their quarterback was pleased to see Samuel and his fellow receivers as he scanned downfield.
“It was great,” quarterback Perry Orth said. “They’re big-time players, and they made plays for us.”