Catch up on previous 2020 opponent previews!
South Carolina is Missouri’s evil twin from the East.
Similar historical winning percentage (55% MU, 51% SC). Same “outsider program” view from the old-money SEC programs. Similar recruiting rankings (SC is 8th in the SEC in 5-year recruiting, Mizzou is 13th). Hell, they even hail from Columbia.
The overall series is tied at 5 games a piece, with Missouri tending to either win big or lose close. And I can’t think of a single year where I’ve ever felt good about the Tigers’ chances against South Carolina.
It doesn’t help that the Gamecocks employ one of the most stress-inducing head coaches in the league in Will Muschamp. The guy who loves to pound you with defense while his offense minimally annoys you means that you tend to stay close with his teams, always giving you the fleeting chance of hope that you win. If he has the quarterback and the special teams to do just enough, however, he tends to pull it off.
Safe to say, he did not have that last year.
Here’s what South Carolina did in 2019:
South Carolina has an even more surprisingly list of wins than Vanderbilt did; whereas Vandy weirdly knocked off our beloved ranked Tigers, Cocky beat Georgia out of freaking nowhere and then proceeded to only win one more game the rest of the year. That makes their record against SP+ ranked teams fun to read:
- SP+ Top 10: 1-3
- SP+ 11-25: 0-1
- SP+ 26-50: 1-4
- SP+ 75+: 1-0
That’s an absolutely brutal schedule, having 10 games against SP+ Top 50. Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson in one year? Yuck. And only getting one win against the SP+ 26-50 range, teams that are their peers, is particularly tough, especially since only one of those losses was within one possession (against our fearless leader Eli Drinkwtiz’s App State). And, to make matters worse, they only went 1-2 in said one possession games, something that Muschamp prides himself on succeeding in.
Head Coach: Will Muschamp - 5th Year - 26-25 (15-17)
One game over .500 seems like a pretty perfect Will Muschamp record, doesn’t it? To his credit, he has helped Cocky improve from the twilight of the Spurrier years, starting off at 85th in 2016, jumping to 41st in 2017, 20th in 2018, then falling to 47th last year. The win total, however, hasn’t seen as steady of a climb: 6, 9, 7, then 4. With both Georgia and Florida getting their acts together its going to be tougher to get wins in the SEC East and programs like South Carolina (and Missouri) will have a tougher time breaking through. But, just like Missouri, South Carolina will recruit in the mid to bottom tier of the conference and rely on builds and breakthroughs; Muschamp has shown he can do that so if the administration - and fan base - can have some patience, this is the type of hire that can work out long term.
Mike Bobo - Offensive Coordinator: The former Colorado State head coach - and longtime Georgia OC - makes his return to the SEC as a coordinator for his former teammate. Georgia fans had...mixed...feelings about Bobo’s offenses in Athens but, despite the popular fan thought, Bobo had some excellent run-based offenses under Mark Richt. He’ll probably be asked to do the same under the notoriously offensively-conservative Muschamp.
Travaris Robinson - Defensive Coordinator: Robinson has been Muschamp’s DC at South Carolina for all four years but has worked under Muschamp since 2011 at Florida. He coached defensive backs for the Gators, then followed Muschamp to Auburn in 2015 and then finally became DC in 2016. Outside of the first year growing pains in Columbia East, his defenses have never ranked worse than 40th.
Kyle Krantz - Special Teams Coordinator
Des Kitchings - Running Backs
Joe Cox - Wide Receivers
Bobby Bentley - Tight Ends
Eric Wolford - Offensive Line
Tracy Rocker - Defensive Line
Mike Peterson - Outside Linebackers
Rod Wilson - Linebackers
Even accounting for Muschamp’s allergic approach to offense, South Carolina’s offense was shockingly bad, ranking an abysmal 98th, their worst ranking since 2016. The running game ranked 99th, the passing game was an even worse 106th, and they couldn’t move the ball on either standard downs (96th) or passing downs (109th).
The main issue was quarterback. Jake Bentley was supposed to have his triumphant fourth year campaign but broke his foot in the first game of the year against North Carolina. That thrust true freshman Ryan Hilinksi into the starting spot, something he was clearly not ready to do. Even as a Top 70 recruit, freshmen quarterbacks can’t carry the entire offense on their own, and Hilinski’s limitations became more obvious as the year went on and opposing defensive coordinators snuffed out his tendencies.
The Gamecocks threw for less than 2,700 yards, ran for less than 1,900 yards, and only once scored more than 24 points against FBS competition. Muschamp teams rarely win with offense but in 2019 they actively held the Gamecocks back. Coordinator Bryan McClendon was demoted at the end of the year to wide receivers coach, but then decided to head west to join Oregon’s staff. Muschamp made the most obvious Muschamp-y decision and hired Mike Bobo, a former teammate and a guy who loves establishing the run even more than Muschamp does.
Quarterback - Ryan Hilinski - Sophomore
Let’s focus on positives! Hilinski did a great job getting rid of the ball and avoiding sacks, getting tagged on only 4.5% of his over-400 drop backs.
...and that’s it for the strengths.
He wasn’t mobile, rushing only 14 times for 67 yards. His passes didn’t go anywhere, managing a measly 10 yards per completion and 5.3 yards per attempt and he only had 11 touchdown to 5 interceptions. He gets 3 of his top 5 receivers back but really needs to either a.) work on the deep ball (124th in explosive passing plays) or b.) get an established run game to help take the burden off of him. Hey, speaking of which...
Running Back - Deshaun Fenwick - Sophomore
Fenwick is Cocky’s leading returning rusher with...22 rushes and 111 yards. Yikes. Bobo offenses rely on a ground game that can carry the load and, unfortunately, there aren’t any proven backs who have shown an ability to be dynamic in the ground game.
They do, however, have some elite reinforcements coming in. 5-star MarShawn Lloyd and 4-star ZaQuandre White will be true freshmen this fall and, odds are, one of those two will see some heavy rotation. Regardless of who gets the carries, it’ll be tough to do worse than the senior-laden backfield did last year. Adding some explosive gains on the ground would be a great start (98th in 2019).
Wide Receiver - Shi Smith - Senior
Bryan Edwards was the go-to receiver for the Gamecocks in 2019, earning 25% of all targets for the team. Unfortunately, he’s a Las Vegas Raider now so the leading returning receiver is slot man Shi Smith. Smith was easily the most explosive receiver in the corps (a low bar to clear) but had the worst catch rate of any of the receivers with over 20 catches. He’s basically their version of Johnathon Johnson: electric when he has the ball but at times forgets to hold on to the ball.
Tight end Kyle Markway (a St. Louis product) had the third-most targets on the team but only accounted for 31 catches and 349 yards. Between Xavier Legette, OrTre Smith, Chad Terrell, and Trey Adkins there’s a lot of youth that has an opportunity to step up, plus blue-chipper Rico Powers comes to campus this fall. But the passing game was even worse than the running game last year and that is as much on the receivers as it is the quarterback. A new system and some more experience should help at least a little bit.
Will Muschamp teams will always hang their hat on defense and, so far, he’s had a good run in Columbia East. Last year’s defense ranked a healthy 30th, managing to bottle up most running games but slipping against the pass and on passing downs. The main issue was giving up too many explosive plays, especially on 2nd- and 3rd-and-long; the culprit of which was a crop of younger defensive backs getting pushed on to the field. But that youth is another year older and while the front seven is retooling the defensive overall is still returning 72% of last year’s defensive production. The strengths might flip but it will still be a deadly Muschamp defense.
Defensive Line - Aaron Sterling - Senior
Sterling finally cracked the starting rotation last year and made it count: 29.5 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 11.5 run stuffs, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble. 3-4 scheme defensive ends tend to not be the most disruptive and he still logged 13 havoc plays for the season. How much of that was due to the fact that he was playing next to the monstrous 1st Round Pick Javon Kinlaw? Certainly a little bit. And other than Kingsley Enagbare there will be new faces all over the two-deep. Sterling will have to work to replicate his 2019 performance to carry the line while the new guys get their bearings.
Linebacker - Ernest Jones - Junior
Young Ernest was not only a tackle machine but a multi-faceted play-maker as well, earning 6.5 run stuffs, 5.5 tackles for loss, 5 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions. If there was a play to be made he was around to do it, even outshining his senior partner, T.J. Brunson. Sherrod Greene is the most likely replacement for Brunson, but the Gamecocks will be breaking in a new BUCK pass rushing linebacker after the departure of D.J. Wonnum. The pass rush might not be as ferocious as it was last year but Jones won’t make anything easy for opposing offenses.
Defensive Back - Jammie Robinson - Sophomore
Robinson was a true freshman who made an immediate impact on the secondary, making 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defensed, an interception and a force fumble from his safety position. The now sophomore will be the star of a secondary that returns 6 of their 7 rotation guys; that experience should help cut some of the missed coverages and blown assignments from last year. Even with the gaffes the secondary ranked in the 50s or better in every passing category except explosive plays. If everything holds while cleaning up the impact of the passing game this could be one of the better SEC secondaries outside of Tuscaloosa.
So what does it mean?
Man, South Carolina has got to get rid of that Clemson series.
Even without playing their in-state Tigers, Cocky goes against Georgia and Florida every year, with a rotation of some West juggernaut (Bama, LSU, A&M) and the last thing they need is to always play THE OTHER college football hegemon of the past 10 years.
With a new OC, a young offense, and a defense that should have its strengths and weaknesses reversed, they’ll need a few games to find their groove and figure out what they can do. Luckily for them they start out with Coastal Carolina and East Carolina before hosting our favorite Tigers. The Chants and Pirates are feisty as hell and could give them a scare, but in theory, they should win both before getting Coach Drink at Columbia East. Missouri will obviously be working on their own issues at the same time so this should be a fairly close matchup. This game is always a weird one: bad Missouri teams tends to win against South Carolina while the best ones somehow lose. Having an experienced quarterback and a dynamite defense makes me lean to a victory for the bad guys but it should be a close game regardless.