It was a night game in Williams-Brice Stadium, a big-time atmosphere and a spot where South Carolina football badly needed a win to at least lock in a path to a bowl game.
In that moment Saturday against Tennessee, South Carolina turned to its freshmen.
The Gamecocks played seven freshmen according to the official box score, and almost every one of them showed well or had an impact in the 27-24 win. A look at the performance of the group:
▪ Offensive tackle D.J. Wonnum: The former four-star recruit made his first career start and was taking non-garbage time snaps in only his second game. He got praise after from Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jake Bentley for his poise and approach. The line had a strong run blocking day and kept Bentley upright most of the time.
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▪ Safety R.J. Roderick: Injuries and his work in practice have elevated him to the team’s No. 3 safety. The 6-foot, 207-pound former high school quarterback was South Carolina’s fourth-leading tackler with five. Muschamp said he stepped up and made some plays in critical spots.
“R.J. has done a nice job,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to be a really good player. He’s just a guy that needs to understand about practice. Practice is really important. Walk-through is really important. Meetings are really important. Everything is important. That’s the hardest thing for young players to understand.”
▪ Cornerback Jaycee Horn: He’s been arguably USC’s best defensive back all season, and might have a case as the team’s best defender overall. He made four tackles, one for loss, and broke up a pass as be bounced between corner and nickel.
▪ Cornerback Israel Mukuamu: The 6-foot-4 corner has made progress as the year has gone on, starting at the fringes of the rotation and getting work here an there. He was in for large chunks of the first drive and got more work than in any other game, according to Muschamp, though Mukuamu didn’t register any stats.
“Israel has played well,” Muschamp said. “Israel played more than he’s played.”
▪ Wide receiver Josh Vann: He caught one 7-yard pass and couldn’t quite get open on a post route early in the game. Though his production has been modest, the coaches have spoken highly of his approach all season.
▪ Defensive tackles Kingsley Enagbare and Rick Sandidge: The pair are USC’s No. 4 and 5 players on the inside. Enagbare had three tackles, Sandidge one. Tennessee deployed a downhill, power-running offense and threw in enough wrinkles to make things tricky.