South Carolina football: Projecting the 2021 starting lineup
For all the turnover South Carolina suffered in the wake of the coaching change from Will Muschamp to Shane Beamer, the offense certainly returns plenty of familiar faces. The defense? Well, that’s another story.
Shi Smith is obviously the biggest loss in terms of production and consistency on offense. Sadarius Hutcherson was a veteran presence who helped stabilize the offensive line and rarely made costly mistakes. But outside of those two, and some Nick Muse flashes at the end of 2020, the cupboard is pretty full for the Gamecocks, at least in terms of veteran players who have experience.
Now, the next step would be upgrading that production, most notably at wide receiver, where the program struggled to find a secondary option in 2020. The Gamecocks were 10th in scoring offense in the SEC at 23.5 points per game. And while the running game is expected to be strong behind 1,100-yard rusher Kevin Harris and a healthy MarShawn Lloyd, Luke Doty and the receivers need to contribute more than they did in 2020.
Here is a look at the projected starting lineup in 2021:
- QB: Luke Doty
- RB: Kevin Harris
- WR1: Ahmarean Brown
- WR2: Jalen Brooks
- WR3: Xavier Legette
- LT: Jakai Moore
- LG: Jordan Rhodes
- C: Eric Douglas
- RG: Jovaughn Gwyn
- RT: Dylan Wonnum
- TE: Jaheim Bell
The offensive line is largely set and will be one of the most veteran in the SEC. The interesting battle will be among the wide receivers. Georgia Tech transfer Ahmarean Brown will compete with Jalen Brooks, who showed flashes in practice last season before he was cleared to play but never materialized in a game. Xavier Legette is another wild card; Gamecocks fans have been waiting on him to emerge.
The offense has potential, but that will largely depend on Doty’s progression as a passer.
It’s hard to believe the Gamecocks finished 3rd in the SEC with 32 TD passes just 3 seasons ago.
- DL: Kingsley Enagbare
- DL: Zacch Pickens
- DL: Jordan Burch
- DL: Tonka Hemingway
- LB: Sherrod Greene
- LB: Mo Kaba
- DB: Jaylin Dickerson
- DB: Cam Smith
- DB: ZaQuandre White
- DB: O’Donnell Fortune
- DB: Jaylan Foster
The departures were much more significant on defense, and that’s less than ideal considering how much this unit struggled in 2020. South Carolina allowed 36.0 points per game. Obviously, that was against an all-SEC schedule, but that was almost 10 points more per game than they allowed in 8 SEC games in 2019. SC’s defense hadn’t struggled this mightily since the 2014 defense allowed 36.8 points per SEC game.
Leading tackler Ernest Jones and ballhawk cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu are gone. Jones’ consistency, and Horn and Mukuamu’s highlight-reel plays the last 2 seasons against Auburn and Georgia would be tough for any team to replace.
Fortunately, there are some household names in the mix for 2021. Especially up front, where the projected starters — including the pair of 5-stars in Pickens and Burch — will receive rotation help from Jabari Ellis, Rick Sandidge, Alex Huntley and Aaron Sterling. A case could be made for several different combinations in that group.
New defensive coordinator Clayton White typically deploys a 4-2-5 alignment, but given this personnel situation, he may shift that thinking. If White adds one of those linemen to more of a stand-up pass rusher role, look for Kingsley Enagbare to be a possibility at the old “Buck” position, if White uses such a role.
Linebacker is an area of weakness, especially when one of the veterans expected to return, Sherrod Greene, missed almost the entire season in 2020 with a fractured hip. However, rising sophomore Mo Kaba made the All-SEC Freshman team as named by the Associated Press.
The secondary was hit hard by not only the NFL departures but also transfers like John Dixon and Shilo Sanders.
The Gamecocks will have returnees Cam Smith, Joey Hunter and O’Donnell Fortune and 2021 JUCO signees Marcellas Dial and Isaiah Norris, angling for starting jobs at cornerback in 2021.
There are obviously more familiar names on offense, but the defense, especially up front has more than enough talent, too. With so much turnover on the staff, Beamer’s assistants will be charged with developing existing talent as much as luring new recruits to Columbia. If they can find that blend of coaching along with recruiting, the success will follow.