After mostly good news in the first two games of the season, South Carolina learned some painful lessons Saturday night against Kentucky. The Gamecocks fell 23-13 to the Wildcats, falling to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC, and revealing some flaws along the way. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Deebo Samuel was fun to watch
It seems the only thing that could slow Samuel down this season was injury, and unfortunately, he suffered a bad one. Samuel will miss “an extended period of time” after fracturing a bone in his left leg just above the ankle, coach Will Muschamp said Sunday night. The Gamecocks offense won’t be the same without him. Samuel had 15 catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns, two kickoff returns for touchdowns and a 25-yard run for a touchdown prior to his injury.
The ground game is grounded
After rushing for 54 yards on 20 carries against Kentucky, South Carolina is averaging 85.7 yards per game, which ranks 13th in the SEC. The Gamecocks’ inability to get anything done on the ground is most glaring in short-yardage situations. Early in the third quarter against Kentucky, South Carolina faced second-and-1, third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 on consecutive plays. It ran up the middle each time and was stuffed each time. The coaching staff eventually gave up on the run game, but quarterback Jake Bentley can’t carry the load alone. “When you’re unable to run the football and you put all the pressure on throwing the football every down, it’s difficult,” Muschamp said. “You have to manufacture more in the run game.”
The margin for error is small
South Carolina played what Muschamp likes to call “clean” football in the first two games of the season. That means few mental mistakes. Saturday’s game was very dirty. The Gamecocks were flagged seven times for 45 yards, four times for false start in the first half alone. South Carolina isn’t good enough to get away with mental errors, particularly as many as it had Saturday night. Through three games, the Gamecocks are the fourth-least penalized team in the SEC.
Elliott Fry was that good
The Gamecocks were worried about replacing Fry, who handled the place-kicking duties for four years and set the school’s career scoring record along the way, but in the first two games, no one noticed. Everyone noticed against Kentucky. Alexander Woznick missed an extra point and a 42-yard field goal, and Parker White missed field goals from 52 and 54 yards. White connected on PAT in the fourth quarter, and that was enough to earn him the place-kicking job going forward, Muschamp said after the game.
The depth will be tested
South Carolina mostly dodged the injury bug through preseason camp and the first two weeks of the season, but it hit them square on Saturday night. In addition to Samuel’s injury, starting right tackle Zack Bailey left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and starting defensive lineman Dante Sawyer left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. Both are questionable for Saturday’s game against La. Tech.