South Carolina had plenty of question marks heading into the 2020 season. They now sit at 2-2 after Saturday’s victory over Auburn, and some of those questions are starting to be answered. After losses in the first two ball games, it was hard to recognize the Gamecocks improvement from a season ago. The signs were there, but the results were not. Now after back to back wins, it is much easier to see this team is growing and finding its identity.
Gamecocks Improvement Showing After Consecutive Wins
South Carolina is by no means a finished product, and still has plenty of areas of concern. However, the Gamecocks improvement is now palpable with two straight wins. The offense is still looking for more play makers to rise up in the passing game, and they need to prove they can attack down field. The defense has shown flashes of being a very tough group, but they need to tighten up on allowing explosive plays. The Gamecocks are definitely a work in progress. The one thing they have done is found a formula for this team to be successful. The consistency to bring the same effort, focus, and execution each week is the next step.
New Faces On Offense
With all the question marks leading into the season, there was a going to be a need for new players to step into bigger roles. Those new names are starting to emerge. Kevin Harris has been the most prominent of the young players stepping up. The sophomore tailback is playing excellent through four games. He is a tough runner who always seems to fall forward. there is no losing ground. The Gamecocks are building an identity as a physical running team. Harris has proven to be a difficult man for defenses to bring to the ground, and has the hands to be effective in the pass game. He has seven total touchdowns which leads the team. Deshaun Fenwick has also impressed when he has gotten the ball. The junior doesn’t have the flashy skill set as a runner, but he is effective when he gets the ball.
The receiving corps is still waiting on some new names to join in on the fun that Shi Smith is having. Dakereon Joyner finally gotten the ball in his hands in each of the last two contests. The former quarterback showed his explosiveness with a 46 yard run at Vanderbilt, and had a 15 yard scamper versus Auburn. He still needs to be more involved in the passing game, as do freshman Rico Powers and sophomore Xavier Legette.
Jazton Turntiune took over the starting role at left tackle against Auburn, moving junior Dylan Wonnum back to the right side of the line. The junior college All-American took a while to get into game shape during camp, but now he is solidified the offensive line with his move into the starting group.
New Faces On Defense
On defense, there are new faces stepping up along the line and in the secondary. Former five star recruits Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch are both seeing their playing time increase week by week. Pickens is becoming a force in the middle of the line, trying to replace what Javon Kinlaw brought the past few seasons. Burch is still learning the defense, but has already made an impact with some big hits and instinctive plays.
The Gamecocks improvement on defense has been bolstered the past few weeks with Shilo Sanders and John Dixon inclusions into the secondary rotation. Sanders is showing he can be the big hitter and sure tackler this defense has needed at safety. He led the team in tackles in his first career start against Auburn. Dixon was thrust into the starting corner role after Israel Mukuamu got injured in week one. He has filled in nicely at corner, and should continue develop as he sees more snaps.
Being a kicker is often one of the most thankless jobs in sports. Luckily for South Carolina, it has been a long time since they had to worry about reliability that area. Parker White is the latest in a long line of steady and accurate legs in garnet and black. He struggled slightly as a freshman, although most of his misses were from 45 yards or longer. White has expanded his range as his career has progressed, and has hit 82% of his field goal attempts since his sophomore year began. It is a true luxury to have the kind of trust this kid has earned from the coaching staff.
Freshman punter Kai Kroeger struggled in his first collegiate game. He shanked a couple of punts against Tennessee, and was struggling to be consistent. The youngster has turned things around since. He was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 48 yards a punt and dropping three inside the 20 yard line this past weekend.
All Gas, No Breaks
The Gamecocks improvement is mainly due to this team finding an identity. They have become a physical running team on offense, and an opportunistic bunch on the other side of the ball. They still need to get better on kick coverage. But otherwise the specials teams is proving more than capable. South Carolina still has a small margin for error. The Gamecocks need all three phase to continue to compliment each other, and they will give them selves a chance in every game. They showed in their comeback from a bad start versus Auburn and their two losses, that they have the toughness to fight back in a game. The next step is in the explosive play category. This applies on both sides of the ball, from attacking downfield on offense more effectively, to limiting the chunk plays allowed on defense.
The next challenge is a road trip to Baton Rouge. They will face the LSU Tigers in a big game for both schools. The defending National Champions are still trying to figure out who they are after losing so much from last year’s team. Having found their identity as a team, the Gamecocks need to take advantage of any uncertainty on the other sideline. Road wins in the SEC are never easy. This team needs to play with the confidence gained the past two weeks, and continue to limit mistakes. South Carolina will need to be at their best if they want to head home having pushed their winning streak to three.