South Carolina’s regular season is finished. The Gamecocks (7-5) will play one more game, against Virginia (7-5) in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29, but most of what their season will be remembered for has already happened. With that in mind, here are the five biggest surprises from the 2018 football season:
The offense against Clemson
It is still stunning that South Carolina gained 600 yards against the No. 2 Tigers and their second-ranked defense. Muschamp’s first two teams gained 425 yards against Clemson combined. The Tigers boast one of the most decorated (and rightly so) defensive lines in recent college football history, and South Carolina scorched them. It was enough to make a 21-point loss, and a fifth loss in a row to Clemson at that, almost palatable to swallow for South Carolina fans. In terms of cementing confidence in first-year offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and giving the Gamecocks something positive to build on in the offseason, it was tremendously important.
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There were a couple of areas where the Gamecocks just couldn’t afford many if any injuries if they were going to have a competitive defense, those being at defensive end and in the secondary. Both were leveled by injuries. Five safeties suffered season-ending injuries, including the two graduate transfers brought in during the offseason because the safety depth was poor before all the injuries. At defensive end, the top three players — D.J. Wonnum, Bryson Allen-Williams and Aaron Sterling — missed a combined 15 games during the regular season.
Throughout the offseason, many South Carolina fans thought the senior backup was just keeping the clipboard warm until freshman Dakereon Joyner unseated him, so the first surprise was how early and how definitively Scarnecchia locked up the No. 2 job. The second surprise, of course, was the Missouri game. Filling in for an injured Jake Bentley, Scarnecchia threw for 249 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and led a dramatic comeback victory in a second half rain storm. His performance has been somewhat forgotten because of how well Bentley played in the second half of the season, but Scarnecchia’s moment came in a moment when South Carolina badly needed him.
White was terrible as a freshman, hitting only 14-of-25 kicks and leaving fans wondering what the Gamecocks were going to do for a kicker in 2018. Instead of being undone by the failure, though, White bounced back to hit 13-of-15 kicks this year, including a 33-yarder with two seconds remaining that gave the Gamecocks their 37-35 win over Missouri. His 84 points this season put him in the top 10 of single-season scoring seasons in USC history. Who would have thought that would happen a year ago?
The true freshman defensive back started nine games this year not because injuries left South Carolina shorthanded but because he was one of the best defensive backs on the team the minute he got to campus. Horn finished the regular season with 39 tackles, eight pass breakups and a sack. The son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn could be a first-team All-SEC cornerback next year. He’s that good.