Shi Smith was set up for a big night against Kentucky, but then Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle got in the way.
“We had a really good plan going into the Kentucky game,” said South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, “and then the running game was working so well, we got away from it a little bit.
The Gamecocks rolled the Wildcats, 24-7, in their last game as Feaster ran for 107 yards, Dowdle added 102 and no USC receiver gained more than 40 through the air.
South Carolina didn’t need an outstanding passing performance to beat Kentucky. That became obvious after averaging over five yards a carry in the first quarter — and more pronounced after Dowdle took the third quarter’s opening play for a 30-yard touchdown run.
While Smith finished with a modest two grabs for 30 yards, the original intent was for the junior to see more than two targets.
Muschamp said the USC staff goes into every game plotting opportunities for both Smith and Bryan Edwards. (Edwards had a team-high six receptions for 37 yards against UK.)
“We feel like (they are) two guys that can make plays for us,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to continue to explore more ways to where we can get (Smith) the football.”
In the post-Deebo Samuel era at South Carolina, Edwards has seen his production rise (on pace for a career-best 70 catches, 900 yards and eight touchdowns) while Smith’s has remained about the same.
Through five games of last season, Smith had 16 catches for 263 yards and a touchdown. At the same stage in 2019, he’s at 18 receptions for 220 yards and a score.
“I really don’t know,” Smith said Tuesday when asked if he’s felt extra attention from defenses. “I know I gotta a couple brackets a couple times, where they bracket me (in coverage).”
Smith added that he doesn’t feel like it’s been overly difficult to get open this season compared to his previous two with the Gamecocks. He began 2019 with five catches for 55 yards in the North Carolina loss, a stat line that would have looked better had Jake Bentley not over-shot Smith on a potential touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Since Ryan Hilinski took over for the injured Bentley in Week 2, Smith has 13 receptions for 165 yards and a score (against No. 2 Alabama).
“We’ll continue to explore ways where we got to get him the ball,” Muschamp said.
Smith said he spent Carolina’s open week working to improve against man coverage and running after the catch.
USC (2-3, 1-2 SEC) travels to No. 3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday. The Bulldogs have the SEC’s seventh-ranked pass defense.
“We gotta work to be the best,” Smith said.
Who: South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 SEC) at No. 3 Georga (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
Line: Georgia by 24.5