South Carolina football: Grading each position for 2022 regular season
South Carolina’s offense and defense had their share of highlights this season as they meshed. Players at some positions matured, while some in other spots struggled with their steadiness. The Gamecocks shook off a 1-3 start and won 7 of their remaining 9 games to finish with an 8-4 mark heading into a date with Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.
Here’s 1 man’s perspective of each of the Gamecocks’ position performances this fall:
Quarterbacks — A
Spencer Rattler had a roller-coaster season that hit its apex at the right time with impressive closing wins that he directed over Tennessee and Clemson. He finished the year with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for 2,780 yards, but he had 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions over the last 5 weeks of the season.
Over that part of the season, Rattler looked more confident and comfortable in the pocket. He showed the necessary leadership skills that helped the team to an 8-4 record.
The lone question now facing Rattler is whether he will opt for the NFL Draft in April.
Luke Doty played in a backup role in 3 games, and he could redshirt if necessary. Colten Gauthier and Tanner Bailey will be in the hunt for some time next year.
Running back — B
MarShawn Lloyd surfaced as the lead back the team envisioned during the summer. He became the main offensive weapon in and out of the backfield. Lloyd finished with a team-high 527 yards with 9 touchdowns despite missing the 3 of the final 4 games. Lloyd wasn’t effective in the finale against Clemson due to a nagging thigh injury.
Jaheim Bell was another major weapon transitioning from tight end, as he added 361 yards. JuJu McDowell (56-for-191) was a change-of-pace back with his speed, and Christian Beal-Smith, who also battled injuries, was a short-yardage bulldozer (36-for-148) with 5 touchdowns and had his share of bursts.
The lone drawback was the inability to develop a steady 2nd back and complement to Lloyd.
Lloyd was on pace to near the 1,000-yard mark, and he will be expected to top it next season.
Wide receivers/tight ends — A
This was a unit that lost Chad Terrell and Corey Rucker to season-ending injuries early in the campaign. Terrell went down before the season, and Rucker was lost after 2 games.
Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. emerged as the favorite target for Rattler, as he caught 63 passes for 898 yards with 6 touchdowns and a 14.3-yard average per catch. Wells also led the team with 910 all-purpose yards.
Jalen Brooks also was a downfield threat with his 33 grabs for 504 yards and a 15.3-yard-per-catch clip. Josh Vann proved to be another valuable outlet with 18 receptions for 296 yards and a team-high 16.4 yards per catch.
Bell began the season as a tight end before his conversion to a running back, and he had 25 receptions. Tight end Austin Stogner also had his moments with 20 receptions, and fellow tight end Nate Adkins made some key plays from the position as well as serving as an effective fullback.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield gradually developed the receiving game, and he also utilized them effectively with reverses and other change-of-pace plays. The receivers recorded a total of 185 yards rushing.
Offensive line — B
The line had its share of patchwork lineups throughout the season, with only center Eric Douglas and guard Jovaughn Gwyn playing in every game.
But it jelled in the 2nd half of the season after a shaky start. It helped produce a steady running game and provide Rattler with the necessary protection to open up the offense.
Rattler was sacked 27 times overall, with 7 of the final 14 coming in 2 of the last 6 games.
Defensive line — C
Up front, the Gamecocks had some highlights, but they couldn’t find their consistency. They finished the season with 18 sacks.
Edge rusher/linebacker Jordan Burch has had a solid season, being among the team’s leading tacklers and adding 3.5 sacks. Zacch Pickens was expected to have a big season, but he slightly underachieved. The line did suffer a major blow when it lost Jordan Strachan — who was off to a good start — in the 2nd game for the season.
Interior lineman Tonka Hemingway was the biggest surprise, as he was disruptive all season with his 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He also recovered and briefly returned 2 fumbles. Another late bloomer was Gilber Edmond, who had 8 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
Linebackers — B+
The Gamecocks’ linebackers quietly pieced together a nice season. Burch easily could be included in this group.
Sherrod Greene emerged as a defensive leader, and he raised his play every week. Brad Johnson was the veteran presence and had a steady season, and Debo Williams was a pleasant surprise.
The corps’ overall play didn’t diminish despite the loss of Mohamed Kaba to a season-ending injury in the 2nd game of the season.
Defensive backs — A-
Before the season, this unit was regarded as one of the team’s better ones. Cam Smith — regarded as a potential NFL Draft pick — Darius Rush, Marcellas Dial and David Spaulding began the season.
Smith had some shaky moments early in the season, but he has rounded into his anticipated shape. Rush and Dial both have been relatively consistent, but both have dealt with some nagging injuries. Spaulding suffered a season-ending injury, as well as starter/nickel back R.J. Roderick.
Freshmen Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith have been major additions. They have been among the team leaders in tackles, with Emmanwori leading the way.
Overall, the unit has been productive despite its share of sloppy penalties and missed assignments.
Specialists — A+
Special team coach Pete Lembo had a good number dialed up that resulted in a strong connection for his unit. It blocked 6 punts and returned 2 for touchdowns.
Kicker Mitch Jeter was a perfect 9-for-9 in field-goal attempts, 2 from beyond 50 yards. Punter Kai Kroeger became a secret weapon, converting all 3 passes on fake punts, 1 for a touchdown. Kroeger had a 45.8-yard average per kick.
Xavier Legette averaged 29.9 yards on kickoff returns and brought 1 back 100 yards. Vann posted a 15.1-yard mark on punt returns.