Game preview: Texas A&M up first in Gamecocks' 5-game homestand
Believe it or not, South Carolina is one-third of its way through its 2016 football season, which seems like a good time for a quick review. As the Gamecocks (2-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) get ready to face No. 9 Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0 SEC) on Saturday, let’s take a look at a few things that have surprised me.
1. Offensive line
I’m surprised the offensive line hasn’t been better. To be clear, it hasn’t been as awful as some people would have you believe, but it’s been too inconsistent for a unit that was supposed to be the strength of the offense.
Injuries to guard Donnell Stanley and tackle Blake Camper haven’t helped, but there are enough quality linemen left that the line should be better. Specifically, if the Gamecocks don’t get better tackle play this week, Aggies defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall will spend a lot of time with Brandon McIlwain on Saturday.
2. Bryson Allen-Williams
I’m surprised Bryson Allen-Williams doesn’t have more flashy plays. The junior linebacker is fourth on the team with tackles and he’s tied for second on the team with three tackles-for-loss so it’s not as if he’s having a bad season, but he hasn’t made as many big plays as I expected.
USC head coach Will Muschamp went into the season planning to use Allen-Williams at a variety of positions in order to take advantage of his pass-rush abilities, but Allen-Williams doesn’t have a sack yet. For his career, he has one half of a sack.
3. Perry Orth
I’m surprised Perry Orth isn’t still playing in some capacity. In Orth’s two starts, he was 20-of-36 passing for 235 yards with minus-9 rushing yards while sharing time with freshman Brandon McIlwain. In McIlwain’s two starts, McIlwain is 31-of-58 passing for 372 yards with 22 rushes for 45 yards while playing the entire game.
While it’s clear McIlwain gives South Carolina options that Orth does not due to his athleticism, it’s also clear Orth is the better passer of the two at this point in their careers. If the Gamecocks want to improve their passing game, it seems putting Orth back in the quarterback rotation would help.
4. Deebo Samuel
I’m surprised Deebo Samuel only has four catches. The sophomore from Inman was supposed to be the Gamecocks’ go-to offensive player. Instead, a hamstring injury has kept him out of the last two games, and he was limited in the game before that after tweaking the muscle on the first play of the game.
Samuel, who missed most of last season due to a hamstring injury to his opposite leg, has four catches for 66 yards. His 16.5-yards per catch average is the best on the team, which is a testament to the dynamic athleticism that has wowed his coaches. Now he just needs to stay on the field. Samuel is expected to return this week, but the chronic nature of his hamstring injuries makes it fair to wonder if this is going to be a problem all season.
5. No surprise
Most of all, I’m surprised that anybody is surprised by this season. Steve Spurrier was blunt when he left this team midway through the 2015 season and again when Muschamp was hired in December. The Gamecocks roster that he handed off is not ready to compete for an SEC title at the moment. Perhaps Muschamp’s offseason optimism fooled some people into thinking his team really did have a chance to win the SEC East. It never did.
Who: Texas A&M (4-0) at South Carolina (2-2)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M by 18