South Carolina football superlatives at the midpoint of the season:
It’s tempting to make an argument for Deebo Samuel here. The junior wide receiver hasn’t played for three-plus games, and he still leads the team in all-purpose yardage by more than 100 yards. Samuel had 474 total yards and six touchdowns in less than three games. Bryan Edwards is the active leader in all-purpose yards with 368.
However, because Samuel has now played less than half the season, the vote here goes to quarterback Jake Bentley. The sophomore is completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,456 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Bentley hasn’t been perfect this season, but he’s third in the SEC in passing despite getting no help from a running game most of the season.
If Skai Moore is going to lead South Carolina in tackles for a fourth season, he’s going to have to get busy. Right now, sophomore linebacker T.J. Brunson is the team leader with 49 stops and looks like a future star at the position.
Still, Moore’s versatility makes him the defensive MVP at this point. Along with being second on the team in tackles with 42, Moore has five tackles-for-loss (which is second on the team), one sack, three quarterback hurries and two interceptions. His pick-six Saturday against Arkansas gave him 13 career interceptions, one short of the school’s career record.
It’s still the first one. South Carolina’s 35-28 win over N.C. State in the season-opener looks more impressive every time the Wolfpack play. Since losing to the Gamecocks, N.C. State has beaten Florida State and Louisville. That game was South Carolina at its opportunistic best.
The Gamecocks were outgained 504 yards to 246 yards, had 12 first downs to N.C. State’s 29 and had to defend 99 plays but won on the strength of a Samuel kick return, causing two fumbles and playing timely red zone defense. N.C. State, which is ranked No. 20 this week, hasn’t lost since that game.
It doesn’t look like anything special on the stat sheet: “Samuel, Deebo 39 yd pass from Bentley, Jake,” but it was one of the highlights of college football opening weekend and a play South Carolina fans won’t soon forget.
Originally looking for tight end Hayden Hurst, Bentley was flushed out of the pocket and rolled deep and to his right before finding Samuel in the back of the end zone with a pass that traveled 50 yards in the air and landed in the perfect spot. Samuel caught the ball with one hand, sealing this play’s iconic nature. On top of that, it gave the Gamecocks a lead they would not relinquish.
The Gamecocks have gotten a lot of help from first-year players on both sides of the ball, but none of has been more impactful than what a handful of defensive line newcomers have done.
Although they don’t get much attention, first-year defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw, Aaron Sterling and Brad Johnson have come in and provided depth at a position that’s very hard to play as a first-year player and at a position the Gamecocks desperately help at. Kinlaw, a 6-foot-6, 326-pound sophomore transfer from junior college, has worked his way into the starting lineup and made an impact blocking passes and field goals.
Football has always been a physically grueling game and the bigger and faster it gets, the more grueling it becomes. The type of long-term injuries suffered this year by Samuel and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams are reminders of how quickly the game can alter what players have worked so long to achieve, but those moments pale in comparison to what happened to Terry Googer against Texas A&M.
Every time a player is taken off the field on a stretcher, it should be startling for all of us who take so much pleasure in what these players do. Seeing Googer, who is on his way to making a full recovery, raise his hand in a thumbs-up as he left the field was the best moment of the first half of the season and won’t be topped in the second half.