South Carolina beat Tennessee 27-24 on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium to improve to 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Will Muschamp was serious about running the ball
South Carolina’s head coach was frustrated after only running the ball 18 times in a 26-23 loss to Texas A&M three weeks ago and pledged to spend the open week tweaking the Gamecocks offense so that wouldn’t happen again. By limiting the number of RPO (run-pass option) plays called and using more run-to-run options, South Carolina succeeded in that. The Gamecocks ran the ball on 40 of their 56 offensive snaps and averaged 5.6 yards per carry for 224 yards total. It was the second-best rushing effort in a conference game this season for USC. The 56 overall snaps were the second-fewest of the season for South Carolina.
A calmer Jake Bentley was a better Jake Bentley
The Gamecocks junior quarterback went into the game trying to keep an even keel rather than getting too high or too low emotionally. That, and a running game the offense could rest on, made for one of Bentley’s most efficient games of the season. He completed 11-of-16 passes for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It was the fewest passing yards of the season for South Carolina, but the result worked out OK.
Rico Dowdle heard the rumblings
The junior running back lost his starting job for the first time this season to Ty’Son Williams, but Dowdle finished with 14 carries and a season-high 140 yards. Williams had 13 carries for 34 yards. “I didn’t feel it was an insult at all,” Dowdle insisted, but he sure looked motivated. “All of us have the ability to start,” Dowdle said. “I guess coach felt like (Williams) needed to start this week. I thought we did great.” Dowdle, Williams and reserve backs A.J. Turner and Mon Denson all are close friends off the field, Muschamp said. “Do they all want to carry the ball? Absolutely, they do and they all have a good competitive nature, but they also want what’s best for your football team.”
The wide receivers need a confidence boost
South Carolina offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon moved from the press box, where he worked the first six games of the season, to the field for Saturday’s game. Muschamp said McClendon made the move in an effort to calm down his wide receivers, who have been plagued by dropped balls all season. It’s too early to tell if the move worked. Bryan Edwards had a career-long 73-yard reception for South Carolina, but that was about it for the passing game. Deebo Samuel was held to three catches for 8 yards, and no other wide receiver had more than one catch.
The secondary is still a mess
Muschamp continues to be frustrated by his secondary which has been plagued by injuries and poor play. “We missed some things last night, just very disappointing, that we have practiced and gone over. We are just not there. We need to be more productive at the position. We need to be more dependable in our communication. It’s been frustrating, but it is what is it is and we’ll go with it.” Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano completed 27-of-39 passes for 207 yards, and it could have been worse. “When a (defensive lineman) makes a mistake, no one notices it,” Muschamp said. “When a safety makes a mistake, everyone should notice it, and we had a few last night that everybody should have noticed. We just didn’t get hit on it.”