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The Friday Optimist: Four things to watch with South Carolina coming out of the bye

Could we be looking at a fresh(man) start for this team?

NCAA Football: Georgia at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

This time three weeks ago, we thought we had our quarterback. Sure, Brandon McIlwain had some ground to cover in his development, but this was our guy for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that foreseeable future lasted about two weeks. Both McIlwain and the persistent Perry Orth were largely inefficient at moving the offense, although Orth looked much better in relief. Enter Jake Bentley. After many believed he would sit out this season as a redshirt, the former four-star recruit is practicing with the starters this week. Seems to me like we have a huge reason to be optimistic heading into the remainder of the season, right? Surprisingly, there might be even more:

  1. Pass Defense: The Gamecock defense let up 24 yards to Jacob Eason. Yes, the Jacob Eason who Bulldog fans were prematurely declaring the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers/Tom Brady/Ben Roethlisberger/Superman. Perry Orth outplayed him. It feels good finally being able to say that the secondary is the strength of this team again, and it all starts with the two studs at corner, Jamarcus King and Chris Lammons. Mark me as impressed.
  2. Hayden Hurst: The massive Gamecock Thor has proven to be reliable asset all season, pacing the team in receiving yards and receptions. The former minor-league pitcher has performed well as a “safety blanket” for both quarterbacks this year, and I daresay that he could be a potential NFL draft pick at some point. That being said, Needed: Punt returner. Let’s make that a newspaper ad or something.
  3. Darius English: The senior defensive lineman has been a sack artist so far this season, actually ranking 2nd in the SEC in sacks (behind former Gamecock commit Arden Key.) Although inconsistent at times, it has been a pleasant surprise seeing English averaging one sack a game, providing some teeth to the front seven. If he keeps it up he might even break the immortal Jadaveon Clowney’s single-season sack record. Wow.
  4. The Youngsters: Rico Dowdle, Jake Bentley, Keir Thomas, and Bryan Edwards. What do these names have in common? These four players could all be potential starters in next week’s game against UMass. And they’re all freshman. Throw in another recruiting class currently ranked in the Top-15 by 247Sports and we could be looking at a come up.

It could take some time, but I have faith in Coach Muschamp. There’s a lot to look forward to, and these Gamecocks are just getting started. So for now, ignore the 2-4 mark. Improvement is being made every day, and after all, this is a rebuilding year. Keep that in mind.