South Carolina beat Coastal Carolina 49-15 on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium to start the season 1-0. Here are five things we learned in the lopsided win:
Dowdle, Williams emerging from pack
Coach Will Muschamp said in the week leading up to the game that all four junior running backs — Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams, A.J. Turner and Mon Denson — had earned the right to play, but it’s clearly Dowdle and Williams that the Gamecocks plan to ride this year. Dowdle looked as good as he has since his freshman season and had a game-high 105 yards on 15 carries. Williams had 82 yards on 11 carries, and together they averaged 7.2 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Turner got only two carries, and Denson sat out with a hamstring injury. Trying to work too many backs into the rotation each Saturday has hampered the Gamecocks running game for two seasons, and it’s looking like that issue will be addressed this year.
Bentley is more comfortable
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Whether it’s a new offensive system that gets South Carolina to the line of scrimmage more quickly or a better fit with new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon or the QB whisperings of new quarterbacks coach Dan Werner or simply more experience, junior quarterback Jake Bentley looks to have found his highest comfort level thus far in Columbia. Bentley, who said he often was hoping to get the play call he ended up receiving from McClendon on the field against Coastal Carolina, didn’t have a turnover and didn’t throw any passes that were in danger of being turnovers. Everything from the pressure he will be under in the pocket to the windows he will have to throw into changes this week, but against the Chanticleers, Bentley was in total control, completing 22 of 29 passes for 250 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
Defensive line must improve
Coastal Carolina rushed for 126 yards on 39 carries (3.2 yards per carry) so no real damage was done, but there did appear to be some running room in the middle of the line of scrimmage. South Carolina played 13 defensive linemen on Saturday as they tried to figure out how three true freshman defensive tackles — J.J. Enagbare, Rick Sandidge and Josh Belk — will fit into their rotation and how much they are going to get at end from the likes of reserves Brad Johnson and Shameik Blackshear. The jury still is out on both those questions, and a much stiffer test is coming this week against No. 3 Georgia. If starting defensive end D.J. Wonnum (ankle) can’t play against the Bulldogs, it will be a big blow for the Gamecocks. Wonnum had a career-high nine tackles last year against Georgia.
Deebo Samuel will be busy
It was clear from the first play that McClendon is going to get the ball in Samuel’s hands even if he has to force the issue. The Gamecocks ran a shovel pass to their senior wide receiver on the first snap of the game and never quit calling his number. Samuel ended up with 112 all-purpose yards on 10 touches (seven catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, one carry for 11 yards, two kickoff returns for 45 yards). The most telling moment in McClendon’s play-calling came late in the third quarter when Bentley and Samuel couldn’t connect on a red zone pass into the end zone. “I threw that one about 100 mph,” Bentley said. “I don’t know why, it just came out hot.” The very next play, McClendon called a play designed to go to Samuel in the corner of the end zone, and Samuel responded with a one-handed scoring catch.
Secondary isn’t settled
True freshman Jaycee Horn made his debut as the starting nickel back and had a good day that included three tackles and a sack. But Horn spent most of the second half playing cornerback in place of senior Keisean Nixon with sophomore Jamyest Williams taking the snaps at nickel back. “We consider Jam a starter back there, too,” Muschamp said. Muschamp also indicated that Nixon wasn’t falling out of favor and South Carolina simply wanted to get Horn some snaps on the outside. However, with Horn’s good start and graduate transfer starting safety J.T. Ibe registering just one tackle for the day, graduate transfer Nick Harvey out for the first half against Georgia because of a targeting call and safety Javon Charleston possibly returning to active duty as his legal case nears resolution, the Gamecocks could be moving defensive backs around a lot this week.