We are only two weeks into the 2017 season, and the South Carolina Gamecocks are already building some solid momentum. With back-to back wins over Power Five opponents, South Carolina has already tested themselves this year. Coach Will Muschamp’s young team now has wins in a border war over N.C. State, and a SEC victory in Columbia, Missouri securing the Mayor’s Cup.
The Gamecocks now prepare for their home opener against Kentucky this weekend. South Carolina will look to end a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats. The home crowd will be electric as the garnet and black will try and move to 2-0 in the SEC and 3-0 overall.
Reversing Road Woes
“I’m really proud of our guys, we didn’t play particularly well on the road last year, and it’s something we really emphasized going into this year.”
Coach Muschamp opened his postgame press conference with this sentiment. After defeating Vanderbilt in Nashville to open 2016, the Gamecocks really struggled away from home the rest of the season. South Carolina is now 2-0 with both games coming away from Williams-Brice Stadium. Starting the SEC slate with a win is always big, when that is a road win, it means even more. Road games with Georgia, Texas A&M, and Tennessee still remain. Those will all be tough games in intimidating road environments. However, the momentum built from opening with two wins away from home will breed confidence in this young team. They should be well prepared to face those tests.
Special Teams – Emphasis on Special
South Carolina has been outgained in each of its first two ball games. One reason they have overcome that is due to the domination on special teams. Deebo Samuel is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous playmakers in the SEC. He has two kickoff returns this season, both have gone 97 yards for touchdowns. He was named SEC Special Teams player of the Week after each of the first two games.
Déjà vu 👀 pic.twitter.com/RVzGXnOoMp
While Deebo garners most of the headlines for the special teams, but he is not alone in making that unit effective. Javon Charleston forced and recovered a fumble on a punt. Joseph Charlton has been solid punting the ball so far, and had a 72 against Missouri. The Gamecocks also blocked a field goal on Saturday, with defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Ulric Jones getting good penetration and reaching high to tip the kick.
Newcomers Making Impacts
Along with his blocked kick, the massive junior college transfer Kinlaw also tipped two of Drew Lock’s passes at the line of scrimmage. The second tipped pass landed the arms of Bryson Allen-Williams and essentially closed out the game. True freshman Aaron Sterling has made the rotation on the defensive line, and was in the backfield on a few occasions against Missouri. The highest-rated recruit in this year’s freshman class has also made his presence felt. Jamyest Williams, ranked in ESPN’s Top 40 last season, nabbed his first career interception.
Breaking on an out route and stepping in front of the receiver, he made a great grab even toe-tapping both feet along the sideline. He also broke up a sure touchdown on Missouri’s last possession. It was a score that wouldn’t have affected the outcome, but it shows the competitive nature of this team fighting to the end. Linebackers Sherod Greene and Eldridge Thompson have also been productive when subbing in.
After the game with N.C. State, many were wondering where Ty’Son Williams was. The sophomore transfer from UNC had only one reception and no carries in the opener. He certainly made his presence known on Saturday. His 14 carries and 78 yards led the team, and he got stronger as the game wore on. He should continue to be a good complement to starter Rico Dowdle. Freshman wideout Shi Smith is also producing when given the opportunity. Mainly used on short throws to the outside, he has seven catches through two games. His role should grow as he learns more of the offense, but he has shown flashes of why the coaches raved of his work in fall camp.
Answering the Bell
Coach Muschamp often talks of responding to adversity. He praised his team for answering opponent’s scores with their own. No scenario shows this more than after Missouri scored their lone touchdown on Saturday. Down 10-0 on the road, the Gamecocks responded as well as any team could. Deebo Samuel returned the ensuing kick-off for a touchdown. Jamyest Williams got an interception on the Tigers next offensive play, and then Deebo took a speed sweep 25 yards to the end-zone following the turnover. With the game leaning towards the opponent, the Gamecocks got consecutive big plays on all three phases to steal momentum away. They never looked back.
Looking Good, but Not Perfect
While the Gamecocks stand at 2-0, there are still plenty of things for Muschamp and staff to work on. As stated earlier, they have been outgained in each contest so far. South Carolina still need to get tougher on both lines of scrimmage. The run game got better as the game progressed last week, but will need to continue to improve. Stopping the run has also been an issue in recent years, and while improving, that area is still in need of shoring up.
This team needs to continue to improve its third down efficiency on both sides of the ball. Momentum can often be swung by picking up first downs or forcing fourth downs depending on the side of the ball. The Gamecocks currently sit at a 48% on converting third downs offensively. Their defense is allowing conversions on 41% of third downs faced though two games. While both numbers are solid, there is room to improve on each.
Home Sweet Home
After getting off to a hot start away from Williams-Brice, South Carolina will return home this weekend. The team has looked good so far, and you can expect a raucous atmosphere on Saturday night. The fans in Columbia will no doubt be ready to get loud and provide a energy boost for their team. This young squad played well at home last year, and three of the next four games are at Williams-Brice stadium. This gives the Gamecocks great chance to build more momentum as the season progresses.