South Carolina football: Final grades for the 2020 season
The season South Carolina would like to forget ended Saturday night with a 41-18 loss at Kentucky.
Much like the season as a whole, running back Kevin Harris provided most of the highlights, and quarterback Luke Doty showed some flashes of potential, but he mixed that with freshman mistakes. The undermanned defense, which had only a few starters remaining from the start of the season, allowed 492 yards, including 291 rushing yards.
With the loss, the Gamecocks finished the regular season 2-8.
Here are the final grades for the 2020 Gamecocks.
Anytime a coach is fired midseason and there is a losing record at hand, coaching is a problem. The inexplicable part of the coaching came on defense, where the Gamecocks seemingly had a boatload of experience and talent. Between 5-star defensive linemen, an experienced tackling machine in linebacker Ernest Jones and future NFL cornerbacks in Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, the defense should have been better. Management of the quarterback position and the inability to develop sustained momentum was another indictment.
QB play: C
Collin Hill probably got more blame than he deserved for the 3-game losing streak against LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. But he also showed little improvement from the beginning of the season. Doty’s insertion was valuable at times, but his role was unclear until coach Will Muschamp was gone. The other confusing part was why Ryan Hilinski never factored into the equation as a 4-star recruit with a big arm and natural leadership.
Running game: A+
The best part of the program since 2013 was not only Harris’ pursuit of 1,000 rushing yards, but also Deshaun Fenwick’s complementary production. After early hiccups, the offensive line settled into place, especially for the running game. Harris went into the finale against Kentucky with 4 games of at least 100 rushing yards, including 243 and 5 TDs against Ole Miss. Then against Kentucky, he rushed for 210 yards and became only the 3rd running back in program history to post multiple 200-yard games, after George Rogers and Marcus Lattimore.
Similar to the running game, Shi Smith became an All-SEC-caliber player, especially because there was little reason for opposing defenses to focus on receivers besides Smith. Nick Muse came on late when Doty became the full-time starter at QB, but he largely filled the gap left by Smith’s absence because of a concussion. The program had a series of problems, from injuries to opt-outs, that largely kept the position from major contributions beyond Smith.
Offensive line: C
One glaring stat? Sacks allowed, where the Gamecocks sat dead last in the SEC with 26 entering Saturday, when they allowed 1 more. What was billed as the best OL in the Muschamp era was marked by change — most notably, 4 different line combinations in 8 games. Hill can shoulder some of the blame for that sack total, but the unit largely fell short of expectations outside of Harris’ contributions.
Pass defense: C
Much like the rest of the team, Horn’s performance in an Oct. 17 win over Auburn may have been the high-water mark for the pass defense. Down the stretch, because opponents had so much success running the ball, the secondary wasn’t tested often. Kentucky, for example, entered Saturday’s game averaging an SEC-worst 115.6 passing yards per game, but they produced 201.
Run defense: D
This unit really fell off at midseason and gave up 200-plus yards against Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. With those stats in front of them, and with fresh motivation, this unit gave up 195 yards at Ole Miss. That came after defensive lineman Zacch Pickens said the run defense was a “pride thing.” The second half against Missouri showed some improvement, but the Georgia game exposed some glaring issues — opt-outs, injuries and missing players aside — and it’s inexcusable to yield 332 rushing yards and 4 TDs to a division opponent.
Overall GPA: 2.28
Falling short of expectations with no real explanation is the toughest reality for the Gamecocks to face. They had talent and experience, especially on defense, and that was the chief reason for Muschamp’s dismissal. The defensive-minded coach had no answer for the repeated problems that cropped up all season. Mike Bobo’s creativity with the offense brought some spark at times, but the quarterback position never really improved since the Auburn game in Week 4. The bottom line is that the Gamecocks had ingredients to win at least 2 more games, Tennessee and Ole Miss for starters, but they failed to put it all together.