Josh Kendall

Clemson game shows South Carolina 5 areas it must improve

Taking stock of Jake Bentley's performance vs. Clemson

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jake Bentley discuss Bentley's 2017 performance against the Clemson Tigers.
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South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jake Bentley discuss Bentley's 2017 performance against the Clemson Tigers.

South Carolina finished the regular season Saturday night with a 34-10 loss to Clemson. The Gamecocks have already exceeded expectations by winning eight games, but the loss to the Tigers also exposed how far they have to go in many ways. Here are five things we learned:

Clemson still runs the state: That’s just the painful reality for the Gamecocks. South Carolina could lay the claim during its five-game winning streak, all of which came by double digits as former Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier pointed out last week, but the Tigers have won four straight since that time, the last two by a combined score of 90-17. “When you lose like that to your archrival, it’s not a lot of fun,” head coach Will Muschamp said.

Jake Bentley can make another big jump: Bentley finished the regular season 226-of-362 for 2,555 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His 62.4 percent completion percentage is a dip from last year, when he completed 65.8 percent of his passes as a true freshman. He is fourth in the SEC in passing with 212.9 yards per game. Saturday was Bentley’s 19th straight start for the Gamecocks, and he’ll continue to be South Carolina’s starter. Muschamp was clear about that. “Jake’s our quarterback,” the coach said. Still, Bentley can take a big jump in his accuracy in his junior year, and he was already talking about the team’s offseason workouts immediately after the Clemson game.

The run game needs a makeover: South Carolina ran the ball better in the second half of the season, but only against questionable run defenses. The Gamecocks managed 81 yards on the ground against Clemson. Combine that with the 43 they gained on the ground against Georgia, and it’s clear South Carolina needs to figure out how to run the ball against elite competition before it can expect to compete in those games. South Carolina finished the regular season 12th in the SEC in rushing with 127.3 yards per game on the ground. Whether it’s with more experienced and stronger running backs, better blocking, a new scheme, or likely a combination of all three, the Gamecocks have to figure out how to run the ball better to be the kind of team Muschamp wants in 2018.

Signing Day can’t come soon enough: Muschamp made the point that he his coaches would be recruiting Sunday. With the new early signing period less than a month away, recruiting becomes even more pressing in December for college football teams than it might have been a year ago, but you got the feeling Saturday night Muschamp would have been fired up to get on the road either way. By the time South Carolina plays its next game, a bowl game in late December or early January, the Gamecocks already will have added more talent, and Saturday night proved they need it.

The coaching carousel could help South Carolina: The Gamecocks seem like one of the only SEC teams not looking for a coach of some kind this week. That kind of stability will help the program and, maybe as importantly, South Carolina’s opponents could be weakened. For instance, one report Sunday suggested Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables could be a candidate for the Arkansas head coaching job. Three opponents on the Gamecocks’ 2018 schedule – Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee – are in the midst of making head coaching changes, and 2018 opponent Ole Miss could join them soon.

Carson Mason with three key takeaways from South Carolina's 34-10 loss to Clemson.

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