South Carolina football: 5 things we have to see in Week 1
South Carolina has a chance to wash away the most recent bad memories from the Belk Bowl clunker against Virginia.
Offensively, what better opportunity than to face a Power 5 team at a neutral site than a North Carolina team that finished 106th in the country last season in scoring defense.
On defense, the Gamecocks face a freshman quarterback running a newly-installed offense away from home.
Factoring all of that in, here are 5 things we have to see in Week 1:
A clean game from Jake Bentley
Much like a mirror image of the rest of the team last season, the veteran quarterback had trouble finding consistency. He threw at least 2 interceptions in 4 games, and only had 2 games where he didn’t throw an interception. For his part, Bentley has admitted in the offseason the need to clean up his turnover rate. He’s well aware that he led the SEC last season with 14 interceptions. That was somewhat masked by finishing 4th with 27 touchdowns.
With everyone, including television cameras, ready to focus on Ryan Hilinski the second Bentley tosses an errant throw, it’s important for continuity and stability of the program for Bentley to get off on the right foot.
The Gamecocks only won two consecutive games once last season. They rarely played well in back-to-back weeks.
The rushing offense, for example, hit its stride several times, such as when it for more than 200 yards and at least 2 touchdowns. It hit those marks against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Coastal Carolina. But otherwise, it didn’t score, and against Georgia and Texas A&M, it had fewer than 100 yards. By midseason last year, when they were 4-4, they had benched a player at halftime each of the last 2 games, and had a host of issues in both backfields and with the pass rush. As with many lingering issues, it was difficult to pinpoint the problem, if there was only one.
Take the end of the season. South Carolina scored 35 against Clemson, and then 0 the final 6 quarters of the season. How about the Florida game? The Gamecocks scored 31 points in the first 41 minutes against Florida, and 0 in the final 19 minutes.
The Gamecocks are roughly a touchdown, or little more, favorite against a North Carolina team that was 2-9 last season with a new coaching staff and a new quarterback. Clearly, Vegas doesn’t quite know how to handle this team, either.
A legitimate pass rush
There are a couple of areas that South Carolina has that have been stuck in neutral for several years. The pass rush, or a legitimate pass rusher, is one.
They haven’t had a player with double-digit sacks since Jadaveon Clowney in 2012. Three times since, the team leader had fewer than 5. This is an area where Zacch Pickens is expected to help improve, not individually, especially this season, but as an overall upgrade to the defensive line.
There are 2 legitimate players who need to step up this season in Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum. At least one needs to deliver, and the Tar Heels offer a clear opportunity. North Carolina has a good, but not great offensive line, but it certainly is a notch below the better teams on South Carolina’s schedule. If they can’t disrupt the quarterback and blow up running plays this week, there’s not much optimism left for the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, if not the rest of the SEC.
A new face must emerge
In the spring, this was Jay Urich. Last season, and recently, it’s Dakereon Joyner, who has drawn praise for his handling of losing the backup quarterback position. Urich has already been called one of the best athletes on the team and might be the most versatile.
For a team that needs a spark, either player, or even another newcomer, would add a wrinkle to an already solid offense.
Urich is 6-5 and is listed as a quarterback, but will play other positions, including on special teams. He’s capable of delivering a play that could turn a game. Joyner, meanwhile, was long rumored to have a special package last season, and even got increased practice time ahead of the bowl game. Don’t be surprised if he appears in a surprise trick play.
Will the Tavien Feaster addition bring life to the rushing offense?
Finding a feature back has been a problem for the Gamecocks dating to the Steve Spurrier days. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2013, and now with Feaster and Rico Dowdle, combined with a new position coach in Thomas Brown, there aren’t many more upgrades the team could do. The Gamecocks were 12th in the SEC in rushing last year at just 152.8 yards per game.
Dowdle is a senior and has had multiple chances to become the feature back, and Feaster recently graduated from Clemson. You can’t find more experience in a competitive backfield.
North Carolina was 13th in rushing defense last season in the ACC, and lost 4 starters from 2018.