South Carolina football scored the highlight win of the Will Muschamp era this Saturday, going on the road and defeating No. 3 Georgia in double overtime, 20-17. Here are five things we learned about the Gamecocks in the win.
Javon Kinlaw cannot be stopped
The stat sheet didn’t count quarterback hurries Saturday. If it did, senior defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw would almost certainly have been the leader. The Gamecock big man was a force on the interior of the line, blowing up plays and making Georgia QB Jake Fromm’s afternoon a nightmare. Georgia’s offensive line is considered one of the best in the country, and Kinlaw proved nearly impossible to stop. That constant pressure helped lead to three USC interceptions and a fumble.
While cornerback Israel Mukuamu was named national defensive player of the week, Kinlaw was at the heart of Carolina’s standout defensive performance, and he likely sent his NFL draft stock even higher as a result.
Ernest Jones has come into his own
Behind Kinlaw and Mukuamu, sophomore linebacker Ernest Jones quietly put together an outstanding day for USC — a team-leading 12 tackles, three pass break-ups and half a sack. Jones also continues to lead the team in tackles, both total and solo.
A large reason why South Carolina’s defense was so successful in shutting down Georgia was its improved tackling, which in turn limited the number of explosive plays the Bulldogs had — no runs for more than 15 yards, and just one pass of more than 20 yards. Jones, a Georgia native not offered by UGA in high school led that effort, and he made it clear going into the matchup that he wasn’t all that fond of the Bulldogs. It was an impressive performance by a young player who played a limited role last year.
Rico Dowdle is the best option at running back
South Carolina’s ground game was foundational to its win against Kentucky, and while the Gamecock tailbacks were less integral against Georgia, senior Rico Dowdle continued to show why he’s the top dog in the backfield. On 21 carries, he went for 79 yards, both numbers far ahead of his teammates. Especially in the first half, he ran with the edge he’s had all season to break down Georgia’s vaunted rush defense.
Meanwhile, Tavien Feaster, the Clemson transfer who was expected to either pass Dowdle or share responsibility with him, carried the ball just seven times for 27 yards. And tellingly, in overtime and facing a fourth-and-1 situation, coach Will Muschamp put the ball in Dowdle’s hands. He rewarded that faith with an eight-yard gain.
USC’s bowl hopes are back in a big way
Before Saturday, South Carolina had three games it was favored to win, according to ESPN’s Power Football Index — Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Appalachian State. That made the path to six wins and a bowl berth look bleak. A 5-7 record seemed to be the most likely scenario.
Now, the Gamecocks are sitting at 3-3 with three games they’ll likely be favored in, as well as a game against a struggling Texas A&M. Throw in this upcoming Saturday’s game against Florida, where the Gamecocks are 7.5-point underdogs, and eight wins is difficult, but not nearly as unlikely as it seemed a week ago.
Dakereon Joyner has work to do
When freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski went down with an apparent knee injury in the third quarter on Saturday, it was time for one-time third-string QB Dakereon Joyner to take over. The redshirt freshman is no slouch — he was a four-star recruit out of high school and has long tantalized fans with his speed and playmaking ability.
But in five possessions during regulation, Joyner failed to generate any points for the Gamecocks. A little of that could arguably be put on coaching — there was the decision near the end of the fourth quarter to try a 57-yard field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-3. But Joyner also struggled passing, completing six of 12 attempts for 39 yards.
Granted, Joyner did run six times for 28 yards, and he managed to avoid any turnovers, allowing USC’s defense to hold on. But if Hilinski is to miss time, the offense and particularly Joyner will have to pull their weight. The defense nearly cracked after 95 Bulldog plays, and the unit can’t be expected to be so good every week.