With the football season less than 10 weeks away, it is never too soon to begin to look at the opponents that will try to derail the Clemson Tigers’ quest for a second-consecutive national championship and their third appearance in the College Football Playoff in as many years.
Today, we finish our series with the Tigers’ opponent and in-state rival—The University of South Carolina Gamecocks—who will try to avenge their worst loss in series history last season, 56-7, with a shot at the Tigers in Columbia on Nov. 25.
Second-year head coach Will Muschamp is firmly entrenched in the rebuilding process after he inherited one of the worst teams in the SEC. After former head coach Steve Spurrier passions turned from the recruiting trail to the golf course, he jumped ship midway through the 2015 season leaving behind a broken program that was years behind their competition on the recruiting trail.
In his first year as a Gamecock, Muschamp led the Gamecocks to a 6-7 final record, but Gamecock fans will more than likely have to suffer through a couple more recruiting cycles before they are ready to challenge for the SEC East, as he attempts to undo mess that he was left with.
The South Carolina Offense:
It took a few games, but the Gamecocks found the quarterback of the future last season in true freshman Jake Bentley—who did not play until the seventh game of the season.
While Bentley was able to amass 1,420 yards passing and nine touchdowns, against only four interceptions in his short freshman campaign—the task now becomes can he achieve similar success over the course of an entire season.
With returning offensive weapons Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst, there is adequate talent around him to make his life easier .But the one thing that Carolina offense is currently missing is an offensive line that will allow Bentley the time to find the receivers, or a running game to provide some relief.
Last season, the Gamecock offensive line allowed 41 sacks, but for Muschamp the hope is that with another year in the system that Bentley can help himself, and the team, out more than he did last year.
“I think right now we’re in a situation, because of our experience, where we’re able to get out of a bad protection and get out of a bad run,” Muschamp said. “A lot of times last year we were calling home, and we didn’t have the ability to be able to do that. So now we’re able to get to the line of scrimmage and go fast. If we don’t like the look, Jake’s able to understand. We’re further along – I thought we’ve done a nice job on the line of scrimmage getting a hat on a hat with the run game
“I would credit just another year in the system with a very young team last year that I think now has understood how important the meeting room is. We’ve got some mature guys that have got what it takes to be successful.”
The South Carolina Defense:
The Gamecock defense breathed a collective sigh of relief when All-SEC linebacker Sakai Moore, who is arguably the best defender on the team, announced his intentions to return to the Gamecocks.
The senior linebacker will return to the field for the first time since missing the 2016 season due to a neck injury that required surgery, in hopes of leading a defense that finished the 2016 campaign ranked 66th in total defense, 39th in pass defense, 90th in rush defense and 51st in scoring defense
The question will become how much of an impact can one player have on a defense that is looking to replace both defensive ends, as well as one of the linebacker spots
“(Moore) Never had a tentative moment,” Muschamp said. “His first day was our third day in pads. We did the cock drill, which is one-on-one, and the first thing making contact is your head. He got right in that drill, we didn’t say a word to him, and he went right after it. That’s the kind of competitor he is.
“He’s a great football player, and he’s extremely instinctive—it was good to have him back…I’m extremely proud of how he’s handled a very difficult situation and a difficult year for him.”.