South Carolina improved to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the SEC on Saturday with a 15-9 win against reeling Tennessee. Here are five things we learned in that game:
A.J. Turner has Will Muschamp’s trust
After playing sparingly in the first half, Turner ended up as the game’s leading rusher with 14 carries for 86 yards, all of which came after halftime. The 5-foot-10, 184-pound sophomore is the Gamecocks smallest back and generally the third back into each game, but he seems to be the coach’s favorite choice in crunch time. After Turner appeared to miss a hole on a play that would have sealed South Carolina’s win without the last-second dramatics, Muschamp defended Turner. “He made a lot of nice cuts, too,” Muschamp said. “I like ol’ No. 25 rolling it up in there.” Turner was named the Gamecocks offensive player of the game.
Turnovers aren’t mandatory but really help
South Carolina didn’t create a turnover for the first time this season. That’s a big reason the Gamecocks were able to control the game for most of the final three quarters but still not pull away. South Carolina entered the game tied for the SEC lead in takeaways with 13 but now sits third after Texas A&M and Alabama moved ahead of it. The Gamecocks also are third in the conference in turnover margin at plus-seven.
Offensive explosion is dwindling
For the first time this season, South Carolina had no explosive pass plays, meaning completions that went more than 20 yards. That’s a big reason the offense averaged only 5 yards per play against a defense that is ranked seventh in the SEC. For the season, the Gamecocks are ninth in the SEC in yards per play at 5.5. Freshman wide receiver Shi Smith had three catches for 86 yards three weeks ago against Texas A&M but only has three catches for 20 yards in the two games since. He had one catch for 4 yards against the Volunteers.
Parker White may be finding a rhythm
For the first time this season, Parker White was perfect on field goals, hitting from 47, 21 and 36 yards. White is now 7-for-14 on the season. “When you show confidence in a player, eventually they see it and they take ownership in it and they eventually do the job,” Muschamp said. “That’s what coaches do. I had total confidence in him, and … it certainly paid off for us today, him making those kicks. You have to show confidence in players.”
The defensive line improvement is no mirage
South Carolina entered the game with 10 sacks on the season. It had seven against the Volunteers. Part of that is attributable to the fact that Tennessee’s starting quarterback was a freshman making his first start, but part of it is attributable to the fact that the Gamecocks defensive line keeps getting better. D.J. Wonnum, Skai Moore, Daniel Fennell, Antoine Wilder, Keir Thomas and Dante Sawyer all had at least one sack. South Carolina is now fifth in the SEC in sacks, behind Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama and Auburn.