South Carolina: 5 bright spots in a not-so-bright start
Much is made about Kentucky’s 5-game winning streak in the series, but for some perspective, a win on Saturday would give South Carolina its 18th win in 31 games against the Wildcats.
Despite the rough start to the season, there are several bright spots for the Gamecocks. Bryan Edwards has been the star everyone envisioned, and the passing game has put an increased focus on using the tight end. South Carolina tight ends in 2018 had a total of 42 catches, and already this season, tight ends have 23 catches.
Kyle Markway has been the poster child of that improvement as the junior already has 14 catches for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s by far the best start to a season in his career after entering this season with career totals of 6 catches for 110 yards and 1 touchdown.
Here are 5 silver linings from a rough early start:
He was one of the best known commodities entering the season, and except for the opener against North Carolina when he had 1 catch for 7 yards, he has sizzled. The senior wide receiver had another big day against Missouri, with 6 catches for 113 yards, including a career-long 75-yard touchdown. In the past 3 games, Edwards has caught 20 passes for 304 yards, including 2 100-yard receiving games. That has lifted him among the SEC leaders with 5.2 receptions per game (8th) and 77.8 receiving yards per game (8th).
Even though he’s the No. 1 target and drawing plenty of defensive attention, Edwards is still putting up big numbers.
Top 5 in the SEC
South Carolina is 0-2 in the SEC, but several Gamecocks are in the top 5 of several statistical categories, including:
- Ryan Hilinski, who is 4th in passing yards per game at 257.3
- Edwards leads the SEC in punt returns at 22 yards
- Joseph Charlton is 1st in punting average at 48.9 yards
- Parker White is perfect in extra point attempts and 5th in field goal percentage
- Javon Kinlaw leads the league with 4 sacks
- Jaycee Horn is tied for the league lead with 2 forced fumbles.
Swiss Army knife weapon
Some wondered if Jay Urich would fill this role, but it’s been former 3rd-string QB Dakereon Joyner, who is now the backup for Hilinski.
Joyner, who is also playing wide receiver this season, saw his most action at quarterback last week at Missouri, completed 6-of-11 passes for 89 yards. Joyner has now rushed 10 times this season for 49 yards and a touchdown, and has caught 4 passes for 29 yards. In an offense that already has proven players at wide receiver and running back, Joyner adds another wrinkle.
Joyner remains a key player to diversify the offense and add preparation time for opposing defenses.
Backfield at its best in recent memory
The Gamecocks are 3rd in the SEC with 10 rushing touchdowns, and 5th in the league in rushing yards with 772. The combination of Rico Dowdle, Tavien Feaster, Mon Denson and the injured Kevin Harris has proven to be the best group of the Will Muschamp era.
Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner didn’t provide the consistent spark in years past, and Feaster’s addition has fueled Dowdle’s strong start, providing competition and relief.
Running for 135 yards against Alabama with a 4.66 yards-per-carry average will go a long way against other opponents.
A consistent pass rush
Javon Kinlaw, who could be a possible 1st-round draft pick, is living up the hype, with 13 tackles including an SEC-leading 4 sacks, including 1 in each game, 2 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries and a blocked kick.
D.J. Wonnum, meanwhile, is back after he missed 8 games a year ago with an ankle injury. He collected 3 tackles for loss against North Carolina and made 11 tackles overall. He had his 1st career interception at Missouri, which set up the Gamecocks’ 1st touchdown of the game.
Like the running game, these pass rushers have delivered some of the best effort, and numbers, of any other group under Muschamp.