South Carolina is now less than two weeks away from opening its 2021 campaign. Shane Beamer is set to begin his first season at the helm of the program. He took over a team that had struggled the previous two seasons, and will look to get them back to winning ways. As is the case during most coaching changes, the roster has its fair share of holes. While there are positions like defensive line and running back where this team is solid, there are also spots where new names will need to emerge. The Gamecocks passing game is the biggest concern heading into the season. That worry deepened when projected starter Luke Doty was injured a week ago. His foot injury is not season ending, but his status for week one is up in the air.
Gamecocks Passing Game Searching For Play-makers
The numbers for the Gamecocks passing game in 2020 were not pretty. They averaged less than 190 yards per game, had under a completion rate under 60%, and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield has his work cut out for him in trying to improve this team’s production through the air. Luckily they have a solid and experienced offensive line to work behind. They should also have one of the best rushing attacks in the conference so that could open things up for the Gamecocks passing game.
Doty was named the starter coming out of Spring practice. He had kept his place through the first week and half of practice. His injury throws things into doubt, with little to no FBS experience behind him on the roster. Doty is an athletic quarterback with the ability to use his legs to both get out of trouble and scramble for positive yards. His development in the passing game is still an ongoing process. The coaches liked what they had been seeing from the sophomore. When he returns from his injury, his improvement in decision making and throwing the ball will be paramount to the hopes of this team in 2021.
For now, the Gamecocks passing game will rely on one of Jason Brown, Colton Gauthier, or Zeb Noland to be under center. Brown is the perceived front runner, and coaches said last week was his best week of practices he has had in garnet and black. Having him step up to the challenge is a good sign for South Carolina. Brown transferred in after a few seasons at Saint Francis on the FCS level. He has good arm talent and has gotten in much better shape than he was when he arrived on campus this past Spring. Gauthier has potential. However, the Gamecocks would be better off not having to start a true freshman quarterback for the third consecutive season.
Noland is an intriguing prospect. He played in nine games at Iowa State over the 2017 & 18 seasons. He also played in 15 games for North Dakota State over the past two years. Noland joined the Gamecocks staff as a graduate assistant this fall. He is now using his last year of eligibility to see if he can help the team after Doty’s injury.
“I think we’ll have a better idea how that thing is going to shake out here toward the end of the week, once we get through these next few practices with our current quarterbacks and once we see what Luke’s situation is,” Beamer said.
Stepping Up On The Outside
The receiver position is also filled with its own question marks. There are plenty of familiar names to look to, but none of them have shown the consistency needed to be counted on yet. The one name that has received the most praise from the new staff is Dakereon Joyner. The standout high school quarterback is finally settling into a role as a receiver. The coaches have praised his improvement at the position, his work ethic in practice, and his leadership abilities. He has shown flashes of the skill he has with the ball in his hands while in Columbia. The previous staff could just never figure out how to maximize his talents. If Satterfield can do so, the former South Carolina Mr. Football could be poised for a breakout season.
The rest of the receiver group will also be looking to prove their worth after under-performing the last few years. Senior Josh Vann has garnered praise from Satterfield for his work during the spring and now fall camp. The Georgia native is the most experienced player in the receiver room, but he still has a lot to prove. Vann has just 49 catches and two touchdowns in three seasons in Columbia. Jalen Brooks will try to live up to the practice hype he has received under the two coaching staffs. He could not put it together on game day a season ago. If he does, he will give the Gamecocks passing game a big target and deep ball threat they desperately need.
Xavier Legette, Rico Powers, transfer Ahmarean Brown, and OrTre Smith will also be in the mix to add deep and production to the air attack. Smith showed great potential as a true freshman. Injuries and other outside interference have kept him from building on that success.
Throw It To The Tight End
Among fan and media circles, the concept of throwing more to the tight end has become a bit of a running joke in Gamecock country. The question seemed to come up at every coach’s call-in show for the past decade. In 2021, South Carolina will have no choice but to feature its talented group of tight ends. The combination of underperforming receivers, and an abundance of versatile matchup problems at tight end will see that position get plenty of chances this fall. Nick Muse headlines the group. The senior came on strong at the end of 2020 and is the Gamecocks’ most known offensive commodity aside from tailback Kevin Harris.
The rest of the tight end group is made up of more hybrid players. Each of Jaheim Bell, E.J. Jenkins, and Keveon Mullins can become match-up problems for opponents if utilized correctly. Bell is extremely versatile, lining up at multiple positions including tailback during the spring game. He has the combination of size and skill to become a huge factor in this offense over the next few seasons.
Jenkins transferred in from Saint Francis with Brown. This coaching staff salivating over the possibilities his unique size can unlock. Satterfield and Beamer have both spoken about the need to line him up in areas to best use his abilities. The hope is the 6’7” 240 pound pass catcher can become a legit weapon in the red zone. Mullins was just starting to show his skills before a knee injury ended his 2020 season. His athletic ability is high level, and the hope is he can pick up where he left off last year.
If the Gamecocks passing game is to improve in 2021, the tight ends are sure to have a big hand in that increase in production.