South Carolina (7-5) takes on Virginia (7-5) in the Belk Bowl on Saturday at noon in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Here are five things to think about as the Gamecocks prepare for the game:
Bryan Edwards vs. Bryce Hall
South Carolina’s junior wide receiver and top target now that Deebo Samuel is gone will be matched up often against Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall, a first-team All-ACC selection and the NCAA leader in pass breakups with 20. “I’m kind of seen as, I guess you would say, one of our top targets and he is their top DB, so of course that’s the matchup you are probably going to see on the field,” Edwards said. “I know he’s watching tape on me so it’s going to be a battle.” Edwards had 52 catches for 809 yards in the regular season.
Jake Bentley’s record watch
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South Carolina’s junior quarterback needs three touchdown passes to become the first player in Gamecocks history with 30 in a season. Steve Taneyhill set the school record of 29 in 1995. Bentley currently has a career-high 27 touchdowns and 2,953 yards. It’s very unlikely Bentley will catch Dylan Thompson for the best single-season yardage total in school history (3,564 yards), but he could get to second place with 254 or more yards.
The defensive line rotation
Defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnun and Daniel Fennell won’t play due to injury, and Keir Thomas and Aaron Sterling are making progress from their ailments. If Bryson Allen-Williams wasn’t returning at the Buck position, the Gamecocks would be in real trouble. As it stands, they will be very thin at the position, and freshmen J.J. Enagbare, Rick Sandidge and Josh Belk can count on getting a lot of snaps.
NFL decision day
Edwards and center Donell Stanley haven’t committed to returning for their senior seasons yet, so the Belk Bowl could be their final game in garnet and black. (Bentley hasn’t either, but he’s dropped enough strong hints that it looks like he’s leaning toward coming back.) The return of both or either would be a boon for South Carolina. Edwards would be a preseason All-SEC selection, and Stanley’s versatility would give offensive line coach Eric Wolford plenty of options as he tries to replace Zack Bailey and Dennis Daley.
Stopping Cavs’ QB
When Allen-Williams described Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins as “a bigger Quinton Flowers,” it probably spooked Gamecocks fans. Flowers, the former South Florida quarterback, had 261 passing yards and 105 rushing yards in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl as the Bulls beat South Carolina 46-39. Perkins is a similar dual-threat. He set the Cavaliers single-season record for total yardage this year with 3,314 yards and touchdowns with 31. “We have to make sure we contain him,” Allen-Williams said.
Belk Bowl info
Who: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
When: Noon Saturday