USC Gamecocks Football

South Carolina football’s biggest surprises (good and bad) from first half of season

Jake Bentley reacts to losing to Texas A&M ... and boos from fans

USC QB Jake Bentley discusses how the Gamecocks battled back but their mistakes were self-inflicted. He also knows the fans want to win.
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USC QB Jake Bentley discusses how the Gamecocks battled back but their mistakes were self-inflicted. He also knows the fans want to win.

At the halfway mark of the 2018 season, South Carolina sits at a listless 3-3, coming of splitting a pair of close games going into the off week.

There have been a lot of surprises, good and bad for the Gamecocks, as they’ve struggled to meet some sizable expectations from the start of the season. Here are some of the things that haven’t gone as planned thus far:

The good

Jaycee Horn: The four-star freshman is playing like a guy set to see three years in Columbia and then head to the NFL. After starting from Game 1, he’s either been the team’s second-best or best secondary player, helping with the run and being a consistent presence in coverage. This season, he’s got 26 tackles, two for loss, one sack and five pass break-ups.

Michael Scarnecchia: Yes, he’s only started one game and went to the bench the next week. But in one spot, where the Gamecocks found themselves needing a passing game in a shootout, he delivered enough of one to pull out a victory that will go a long way in possibly salvaging at least a bowl trip this season.

Shi Smith: There were some issues against Texas A&M, which included the first drops of his career. That said, he came into the season a guy with promise, but also the potential to get squeezed out with two receivers like Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Smith has held his own, posting 314 yards on his 21 catches, leading the team in yards per catch and breaking some big plays against Vanderbilt.

Parker White: The second-year starting kicker was at best shaky last season. This year, he’s hit 8 of 9, including both from outside 40 yards. They haven’t been too aggressive with him, and he did miss a 38-yarder against Kentucky, but considering the issues last season, it’s been a welcome change.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp talks about the Gamecocks' self-inflicted wounds.

The bad

Deebo Samuel: He was projected to return from injury and quickly give the team a dynamic spark on offense. For the season, he’s got 382 yards and four scores, but only 11.6 yards per catch and 6.9 yards per target. Those numbers are OK, but not what’s expected from a projected All-American.

The offensive sync: Simply put, South Carolina has too many good pieces to be languishing at 68th nationally in yards per play. The running game hasn’t looked fully locked in outside the Vanderbilt and Coastal Carolina games. The passing game has never looked fully on-point.

The safety spot: The Gamecocks have one of their most veteran defenders, two grad transfers and the top-rated recruit in the 2016 class at this spot. It’s been kind of a mess most of the season. That group hasn’t tackled well, hasn’t been consistent and flat out struggled to anchor things.

Jake Bentley: He’s in his third season starting, coming off a modestly successful season, one a little worse than it was hyped to be. At the moment, he’s thrown the most interceptions in the SEC, despite playing fewer games than half the teams, and ranks 11th in yards per pass attempt.

The run defense at points: USC opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per rush. That’s not awful, but there have been some breakdowns, especially against Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky. This was a strength in 2017, but it appears losing Taylor Stallworth, Dante Sawyer and Skai Moore and consistent safety play hurt here more than expected. Some of this has been exacerbated by injuries to D.J. Wonnum, arguably the team’s best linemen, and J.T. Ibe, the best run-support safety.

The ground game: South Carolina returned three seasoned backs and got more beef in the interior of the line. No one has taken the reins or been consistently productive. Rico Dowdle is the top option, but he’s at 4.3 yards a carry. Ty’Son Williams shows flashes, but seemingly can’t take a bigger role. A.J. Turner (concussion) and Mon Denson (hamstring) have both been limited.

The turnover troubles: The Gamecocks lived on turnover margin, especially from the defense. After ranking 14th and sixth nationally in turnovers forced per game the past two years, they’re down to 104th. That’s been matched by a jump in giveaways from 1.3 a game (41st nationally) to two a game (108th).

The Gamecocks still sing the alma mater after losing in a close game to Texas A&M October 13.