South Carolina football: Reassessing the Gamecocks after a 2-1 start
Much of the optimism that grew out of South Carolina’s 2-0 start was erased in the Georgia night during Saturday’s 40-13 loss to the Bulldogs. But the Gamecocks are trying to make that a short-term memory.
Let’s take stock of South Carolina after 3 games.
Some of the optimism from early this season, like about Josh Vann finally emerging as a No. 1 receiver, was erased by the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he got for taunting Derion Kendrick.
Vann spoke to his state of mind after the game and said he was “caught up in the moment,” and penalties like that are not him.
“It’s great and all to try and be that No. 1 go-to receiver when everything’s going well or going bad,” Vann said. “When you don’t come out with a win, it’s pretty tough.”
The Gamecocks return home this week for a seemingly more manageable game against Kentucky coming off this decisive defeat.
Penalties and poor offensive line play are 2 of the more alarming trends to start the campaign. South Carolina came in to Saturday’s game with 16 penalties for 116 yards, which was fifth in the SEC. That trend continued with 9 more for 70 yards.
“We just beat ourselves. I mean shouts out to Georgia, they’re a good team,” Vann said. “They’re the No. 2 team in the nation for a reason, so props to them. We could have easily (stuck) with them; we just beat ourselves. … When you’re doing that, getting penalties against a good team, it’s not going to translate as well.”
Even though there’s a renewed atmosphere this season around South Carolina, after 3 games there’s plenty to clean up.
There were chances to be had against Georgia, such as when Jaylan Foster picked off Stetson Bennett late in the 1st quarter. The Gamecocks responded with a Luke Doty rush for 3 yards, then they lost 5 yards on an illegal substitution. MarShawn Lloyd gained 5 yards, then Jalen Brooks dropped a very catchable pass.
All of those players are expected to see increased production this season, and that’s an example of how they’ve fallen short. It’s that kind of sequence that the Gamecocks need to learn how to finish. Instead of a field goal, they need a touchdown there to move the needle against more comparable teams in the SEC East, like Kentucky.
The QB situation is not much clearer. The injury has simply switched from Doty to Zeb Noland. Quarterback development and production has lagged.
“I still think I’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Doty said. “Obviously getting that little bit of game action against them was unbelievable. Hats off to them, they’ve got a great defense, and they’re going to have a great season. But it’s only 1 game, we’re going to put this one behind us and we’re going to move forward. We’re going to keep a positive attitude about everything and just move forward.”
It is difficult to not overreact to the offensive line’s play given Georgia’s dominance. But there were still only a few glimpses of sunshine, and it has become a trend outside of Georgia’s vaunted front. The Gamecocks didn’t get the run going. There were a couple of long passes to Vann and Brooks, but they mostly couldn’t connect on anything to write home about — more of the same from the games against Eastern Illinois and East Carolina.
Perhaps most alarming were injuries to linebacker Sherrod Greene and cornerback Cam Smith, who are 2 of the most experienced players on the back half of the defense. Greene already missed 9 games last year, and his loss leaves even more questions about how the defense will produce outside of the defensive line.
The Gamecocks are not yet who we thought they were. While Vann is a pleasant surprise, none of the running backs has exceeded expectations, save for Juju McDowell against East Carolina. The bruising duo of Lloyd and Kevin Harris has left something to be desired.
Many of the comments after the game centered around the love the Gamecocks have for each other, and the belief that all the units will come through. Those checks will need to be cashed in a meaningful way in the next month with what has every chance to be a winning record against Kentucky, Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
At this rate, the Gamecocks will enter November with a 5-4 record, which means wins over Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.