Five Keys to the Gamecocks Success in 2017

The 2016 season was a bit of a roller coaster for the South Carolina Gamecocks football program. A slow start, especially offensively, forced the Gamecocks to stumble out of the gate to a 2-4 record. After inserting freshman Jake Bentley as the starting quarterback during the bye week, South Carolina recovered to end the regular season at 6-6. They then fell in a wild bowl game to South Florida. Coach Will Muschamp’s squad had to go into the offseason coming off a second straight losing record.

Last year’s team was extremely young and trying learn under new coaching systems. The Gamecocks will return the bulk of their starters and will benefit from being in the second season under Muschamp’s staff. Expectations will certainly be higher heading into the season, but a tough schedule may make progress hard to come by.

South Carolina is still a year or two away from being back to contending at the top of the SEC. A young core of offensive players does have fans optimistic about what is to come.  A winning season in 2017 will be another step towards recovering from where this program was at after a disastrous 2015. Here are five keys to the Gamecocks having a successful campaign.

Five Keys for a Successful Season for the Gamecocks

The Kids Growing Up

Heading into last season, Coach Muschamp had a hard time pinpointing who was going to contribute on offense. The cupboard was rather bare in terms of skill position talent. The emergence of multiple freshman, Bentley, Rico Dowdle, and Bryan Edwards especially, gave some answers to that question as the season wore on. Those three sophomores, as well as junior Deebo Samuel, will be asked to carry what could be an explosive offense going forward. After solid years as freshman, a big step towards consistency and increased production will be expected going this season.

Muschamp has successfully filled his skill positions in just his first season in charge. UNC transfer Ty’Son Williams will add more talent to the running back core. Incoming freshman wideouts Shi Smith and OrTre Smith will try to break into the rotation of pass catchers. The offense has the potential to be very good if the youngsters grow into bigger roles and the newcomers can also contribute.

Gamecocks Returning Offensive Production

QB- Jake Bentley – 125/190 1420 yards – 66% – 9tds – 4 ints

RB – Rico Dowdle – 133 carries – 764 yards – 6 tds – 15 rec – 55yds 1td

RB – A.J. Turner – 116 carries – 497 yds – 3 tds – 21 rec – 143 yards 1 td

WR – Bryan Edwards – 44 rec – 590 yards 4 tds

WR – Deebo Samuel – 59 Rec – 783 yards – 1 td – 15 carries – 98 yards – 6 tds

TE – Hayden Hurst – 48 rec – 616 yards – 1 td

TE – K.C. Crosby – 23 rec – 217 yards – 4 tds

Line in the Sand

Anyone that follows college football knows that games are often won and lost in the trenches. The Gamecocks struggled on both sides of the line at times last year. New offensive line coach Eric Wolford will be look to bring the most out a group returning four starters and six overall contributors from last year. With an abundance of young skill position talent, the play of the line will be crucial to ensure a successful season. Junior Zach Bailey will anchor the line; he is a veteran with NFL potential and the ability to dominate at times. The tackle spot will need to be shored up, but South Carolina is stocked with experienced interior lineman.

Controlling the line of scrimmage in the running game will be key to a team that still lacks depth on defense. The ability to keep drives going and the defense rested cannot go undervalued. As always, protecting Jake Bentley and giving him time to find his young wideouts is a top priority.

Skai’s the Limit

The biggest newcomer to Muschamp’s defensive unit is a familiar face to Gamecock fans.  Skai Moore will be back this year after missing last season with a neck injury. The senior linebacker from Florida will be leaned on to lead a defense that was worn down at the end of last season. Moore will look to become the first Gamecock to lead the team in tackles in four different seasons. An All-SEC performer before his injury, the hope is that Moore can continue to make the big plays that South Carolina fans are used to seeing from him. Skai Moore has 11 career interceptions, leaving him only three shy of Bo Davies school record for a career.

Adding a ball-hawking and tackling machine should be a major boost to this defense.  Teaming Moore with Bryson Allen-Williams will give the Gamecocks as good a starting linebacker tandem as there is in the league. They will need to play to their potential as experienced depth is a major issue at that position.

Beat Kentucky

South Carolina has bigger rivals on its schedule for sure. There are better teams that the Gamecocks need to compete with to contend in the SEC. However, the match-up with the Wildcats from Lexington in the third week of the year may be the most important. Coach Mark Stoops has begun to raise the football profile of this basketball school. They currently hold a three game win streak over the team in garnet and black. Each of those contests were winnable for South Carolina, all being decided by seven points or less.

The Gamecocks program cannot hope to contend with its bigger rivals like Georgia, Florida, and Clemson if it keeps losing to Kentucky. The Wildcats have improved their status over the last few years. However, a team wanting to contest in the SEC cannot lose a fourth straight season to them. N.C. State and Missouri will certainly be tough games to open the year. The Gamecocks will need a win over Kentucky in their first home game if this program hopes to continue building towards bigger goals.

Finish Strong

A midseason quarterback change and subsequent three game win streak allowed South Carolina to surprise a lot of people by making it to a bowl game in 2016. The last three of their final four games include the aforementioned bowl game and a blowout to rival Clemson. The lack of depth on defense caught up to them, and the defense allowed a respectable 21.1 points per game over the first ten games. Each of the last three opponents scored over 30 points. Allowing a combined 102 points to the explosive offenses of Clemson and South Florida was not how this defense wanted to be remembered.

A strong finish to the year against November slate including Georgia, Florida and Clemson will not be easy. South Carolina wants get back to the success level from the early part of this decade. To do that, the challenge of finishing strong will need to be handled better by this season’s Gamecocks. Topping off this year with a bowl win would also be a positive step in the right direction.

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