South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) plays No. 22 Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. Here are the five burning questions that will determine if the Gamecocks can win:
How effective will Jake Bentley be?
The Gamecocks regular starting quarterback returns to action Saturday after missing last week due to a Grade 1 (the least serious version) MCL sprain in his left knee. He will wear a brace on his left knee today and how it affects his accuracy and mobility will be worth watching early. Senior backup Michael Scarnecchia played well enough filling in for Bentley last week (249 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) that South Carolina now knows it has a viable option if Bentley struggles. Head coach Will Muschamp has praised Bentley’s command of the offense throughout the season, but his numbers (928 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions) haven’t been great.
Can South Carolina stop the Aggies run game?
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Texas A&M is fifth in the SEC in rushing with 220.8 yards per game. Aggies running back Trayveon Williams leads the league with 720 yards, and that’s with 40 percent of his snaps coming against Alabama and Clemson. Last year, Williams had 14 carries for 98 yards against the Gamecocks, and the USC rush defense was better last year. South Carolina is next-to-last in the conference in rushing defense this year, allowing 194 yards per game on the ground. The Gamecocks have stressed doing “simple better” to improve their run defense, but that’s something they have been trying to do for a while without success.
Can South Carolina run the ball?
Two years ago against the Aggies, junior running back A.J. Turner had a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. The Gamecocks had only 86 yards on 34 carries after that in a 24-13 loss. In the last two games, South Carolina has averaged 3.12 yards per carry. Overall, the Gamecocks are 11th in rushing with 169.2 yards per game. The Aggies, meanwhile, lead the SEC in rushing defense, allowing only 78.8 yards per game despite facing the Crimson Tide and Tigers, two of the nation’s top 27 rushing teams.
Can Gamecocks beat a ranked team?
The Muschamp era turned around on Oct. 29, 2016, when a 2-4 South Carolina team beat No. 18 Tennessee 24-21 in Williams-Brice Stadium with Bentley making his first SEC start. Since then, though, the Gamecocks are 0-7 against ranked teams. It’s informative, although not encouraging, to remember that that 2016 Tennessee team was in the midst of a tailspin that would see it lose to Vanderbilt later in the season. There’s another losing streak to snap as well. South Carolina is 0-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
When will Deebo Samuel break out?
The Gamecocks senior wide receiver doesn’t have a 100-yard receiving game this season. Saturday would be a good place to start. The Aggies pass defense seems to be their biggest weakness, allowing 244.8 yards per game and an SEC-worst 8.6 yards per attempt. Samuel has 36 touches this season and is second on the team in all-purpose yardage with 88 yards per game. (Running back Rico Dowdle, who leads the team in touches with 87, leads the team with 88.6 yards per game.) However, he’s yet to look as explosive as he did a year ago. Of the team’s 38 explosive plays, Samuel has been involved in only four of them, three receptions in the last two weeks and a carry against Coastal Carolina.