Josh Kendall

Five things to watch in South Carolina’s spring game

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and running back Ty'Son Williams
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and running back Ty'Son Williams Special to The State

Before South Carolina tips off in the Final Four on Saturday night in Phoenix, there is some other athletics business to attend to in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Will Muschamp’s second Gamecocks football team will hold its annual spring game at noon, giving fans their first chance to see the 2017 squad in action.

Muschamp’s first team finished 6-7 in 2016, and this group needs to make improvements in several key areas if it wants to be in the winning column this fall. Here are five things fans can look for Saturday to see how much progress the Gamecocks are making:

1. Up front offensively

First-year offensive line coach Eric Wolford has focused heavily on technique since taking over for Shawn Elliott in January, his players said, and he’s also made some position changes up front. The Gamecocks’ first-team offense will start with Malik Young at left tackle, Donnell Stanley at left guard, Alan Knott at center, Cory Helms at right guard and Zack Bailey at right tackle. Bailey was moved from guard and has played well this spring. Young is moving from right tackle to the all-important left tackle spot, so he’s worth keeping an eye on Saturday. Sadarius Hutcherson, the backup at left tackle, won’t play due to an ankle injury, and D.J. Park, who is contending for the starting job at left guard, is questionable due to a shoulder injury.

2. Skai Moore’s return

After leading the team in tackles in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Moore missed the 2016 season following neck surgery. He has competed fully this spring and will play Saturday, which should be a welcome sight for South Carolina fans. The Gamecocks believe they will have more options defensively because of Moore’s speed, and Muschamp has been impressed with his instincts. Moore will start on the weak side with T.J. Brunson in the middle and Bryson Allen-Williams on the strong side. Those are the only scholarship linebackers on the roster at the moment, so it will be interesting to see who plays with the second team in the spring game.

3. Offensive diversity

Last year, South Carolina’s offense finished last in the SEC in scoring with 20.8 points per game and was hamstrung by its youth, specifically in its inability to deploy many formations. That resulted in a level of familiarity for defenses that thwarted much of what the Gamecocks wanted to do. Defenses are typically limited in what they can call during a spring game, but look for the offense to try out several new looks at least from a formation standpoint. One option the team has toyed with this spring is more three wide-receiver, one-tight end sets.

4. Pass rush

The game will be a live-action affair except for a few areas. One of those is the quarterbacks. No defensive players will be able to tackle or hit any of the quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t get an idea of who has the ability to rush the passer. The first two options are starting ends Dennis Wonnum and Dante Sawyer, but one of the most intriguing players to watch will be reserve end Shameik Blackshear. Coaches and teammates have praised the one-time highly regarded recruit for his renewed effort and consistency, but Muschamp has not allowed Blackshear to talk to the media this spring. Saturday, everyone will get a chance to see how far he’s come.

5. Backfield depth

North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams sat out last year, working with the Gamecocks’ scout team. Now he’s a part of the regular rotation, and it sounds like he could push Rico Dowdle for the starting job in the fall. Williams has gotten more scrimmage work than Dowdle this spring because South Carolina’s coaches already have seen most of what Dowdle can do. It’s likely Williams will get more snaps in the spring game as well, which will give fans a chance to see just how good Williams is. A.J. Turner, who started four games last year and looks to be the team’s change-of-pace back, is questionable for Saturday’ game due to a hamstring injury.

USC spring game

What: South Carolina’s Garnet and Black Spring Game

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

Admission: Free

TV: SEC Network (Taylor Zarzour, Greg McElroy, Peter Burns)

Radio: 107.5 FM in the Columbia area

For fans: The Williams-Brice Stadium gates will open at 10:30 a.m. Fans are asked to sit in the lower bowl of the stadium. The clear bag policy will be enforced for the game.