USC Gamecocks Football

In maybe Gamecocks’ best defensive performance, USC freshman shows his potential

What a bowl win would mean for South Carolina’s offseason momentum

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp explains what winning the Belk Bowl would mean for the Gamecocks after the season.
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South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp explains what winning the Belk Bowl would mean for the Gamecocks after the season.

It is inarguable the Akron Zips are among the worst offensive teams in college football.

It’s also factual the South Carolina Gamecocks held that team, one that ranked 126th in the country in yards per play, to its second-worst offensive day. This came despite USC being devastated by injuries all across the defense.

And it came in part because of true freshman Kingsley “J.J.” Enagbare playing an old and new position.

The first-year defensive lineman delivered far and away his best performance of the year against the Zips. He had his first career sack only a few plays into the first Zips drive and closed with six tackles, twice as many as his previous career high.

“JJ played a fantastic game,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “Really got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. First third-down rush was outstanding.”

Enagbare added another tackle for loss and a trio of quarterback hurries. It brought his season total to 17 tackles.

And it came while playing slightly out of position.

He came to South Carolina listed as a bigger defensive end, but quickly the Gamecocks coaches aimed to make him a tackle. He bulked up to 285 pounds and opened the year as the No. 4 player in the interior rotation.

For the season, there were ups and down, being thrown into the grinder of SEC line play. He and fellow freshman Rick Sandidge played a good amount, especially as attrition hammered the Gamecocks up front.

By the time Saturday rolled around, he was chipping in at defensive end because of the number of bodies lost. In doing so, he impressed his coaches.

“JJ is very active,” Muschamp said. “He’s really instinctive on blocks.

“He creates some issues for you. He’s got good length and good athleticism and change of direction. He’s going to be a really good football player.”

How he fits in the puzzle next season is going to be interesting, as USC will be flush with depth. Talented junior Javon Kinlaw announced he won’t go to the draft, and veterans Keir Thomas and Kobe Smith also have another season.

Those three are back, as are Enagbare, Sandidge and former four-star and Clemson transfer Josh Belk, who played sparingly while getting his weight down. They give USC six options on the inside alone. And that’s before considering incoming five-star freshman Zacch Pickens, who likely ends up inside, and any other tackles that come in.

But in a sense, that’s what the Gamecocks coaches want. They had to throw three freshmen into the fire and might just see the payoff.

“They’ve played a lot of football for us,” Muschamp said. “There’ve been some growing pains, but we’ll benefit from it.”

Belk Bowl info

Who: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

When: Noon Dec. 29


South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp reflects on the progress the Gamecocks have made in three seasons.