Through the offseason, the talk about South Carolina freshman quarterback Jake Bentley focused on his cannon of an arm. But his second start showed something else.
Young fella can run a little bit.
This doesn’t come through in the numbers, as his sack total left him with minus-9 yards rushing, but a close breakdown of the game shows three or four runs that were pretty difficult.
The one that pops most is the fourth-and-2 scramble on the game's opening drive, which eventually produced a touchdown. At the snap, Bentley rolls to his right. Space opens to the left, but left tackle Mason Zandi is doing his best to stay close to All-SEC defensive end Derek Barnett, and defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, a former five-star prospect, gets past guard Zack Bailey.
Bentley is 8 or 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage as he starts shifting momentum to reverse field. He escapes the grasp of Tuttle and has enough speed to get away from Barnett as he scampers for a first down.
Bentley fourth-down scramble
His other runs included beating a linebacker to the corner with only a slight of a block to hold up the defender. On another play, Bentley nearly accelerated past a linebacker before falling forward for 4 yards when a defender had him 1-on-1.
He even looked good running a sweep on a touchdown that got called back. Tight end Hayden Hurst hooked a defender ever so slightly, a borderline call that probably could have gone either way, though it left Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp incensed.
Hurst hold negates TD
The reason Bentley’s rushing numbers didn’t reflect his running was Tennessee sacking him six times. Muschamp said Sunday night there wasn’t one thing Tennessee did, but a range of different issues.
▪ Sack No. 1: Barnett was too quick for a developing blocking scheme and a running back missed a cut block, plus a corner came untouched on a blitz.
▪ No. 2: Tennessee overloaded the offense’s left side, and a nickel corner came untouched to plant the quarterback.
Overload zone blitz
▪ No. 3: The pocket got a little tight, but Bentley mostly held the ball too long.
▪ No. 4: A similar overload to No. 2, but the running back comes inside to get the nickel corner, and Barnett gets around Zandi enough to get Bentley by the shoestring.
▪ No. 5: A slide protection left a running back blocking a defensive end, who pushed the back away and made a play.
▪ No. 6: Tackle Dimarya Mixon swam past a guard on a stunt, collapsing the pocket, and Barnett, on his knees, got a hold of Bentley’s jersey to finish things off.
The Vols sent at least five rushers on about 55 percent of USC’s dropbacks, including four of the sacks.
Man on the run
Muschamp said freshman running back Rico Dowdle looked like a “big-time SEC back” when he bounced a carry outside and broke a couple tackles on a 40-yard run.
But his ability to get through contact, make good situations out of bad ones and always lean forward were the main reasons he posted 127 yards on the ground.
Dowdle rarely seemed to leave yards out there, always fighting ahead. He had 104 yards after contact, and even without his big run, he still had 70 on 26 carries.
That included an early run where he was caught dead-to-rights in the backfield and still found a way to make something of it.
Dowdle makes something from nothing
South Carolina’s offensive staff tried to use former starter Brandon McIlwain in a run-first package, but in the second week, it didn’t work out.
The freshman was on the field for two plays, both short-yardage. Neither was converted.
On the first, USC called a counter run, but a defensive tackle got past Zandi, and McIlwain couldn’t push forward once he was hit.
The second was a pass off the same counter look. The first read appeared to be Hurst in the flat (he came across the formation on the counter run), but a swarm of Vols had rushed into the flat. Often on that sort of rollout, there’s a tight end deeper, coming across from the other side of the formation. K.C. Crosby looked open on that route from the TV angle, but it’s not clear if McIlwain missed him or if the window wasn’t as open as it looked.
McIlwain instead tried to force it to Hurst and bounced the pass.
Fake counter pass
Slowing the Vols
The Gamecocks didn’t do anything exotic or different to stop Tennessee’s offense. Before the game, players said they aimed to stop the run because the Vols’ passing game was mostly built off that.
USC kept one safety or defensive back closer to the box about two-thirds of the time to help. But for the most part, the Gamecocks played solid, kept things in front of them and finished small things like completing tackles or containing plays (with a few dynamic plays mixed in).
That meant a bend-but-don’t break outcome in which the Gamecocks allowed only 10 plays longer than eight yards, none longer than 34. Josh Dobbs has never been an efficient passer down-to-down, and forcing his offense to march often eventually short-circuited things.
▪ Defensive end Dante Sawyer had a pair of nice plays, one where he corralled a running back trying to bounce into space and another where he stayed with Dobbs on a broken play and chased him down for a third-down stop.
Sawyer keeps contain
▪ Bentley was so confident in the hole opened on USC’s first touchdown, he pointed to the sky in celebration well before Rico Dowdle crossed the line
▪ Cornerback Jamarcus King’s second pick was extremely impressive, racing away from his man to close a window, but one play in run support stood out more. On a reverse, he was unable to get off a block, so he drove the blocker into the runner to limit what could have easily been a touchdown.
King shoves blocker into runner
▪ Linebacker Jonathan Walton shot into the backfield on a counter run, forced the quarterback to keep it and then ran him down for a loss.
Walton forces keep, then blows up run