Since we’ve now made it six weeks through the tragically brief college football season, I wanted to pull back a bit and note six things I’ve appreciated about the Gamecocks’ 2017 campaign so far. I’m going to try to avoid some of the more obvious ones — we all know Hayden Hurst is good at catching footballs, and that T.J. Brunson is a tackling machine — and highlight some of the more underrated aspects of this team instead.
When star receiver Deebo Samuel went down with his possible season-ending leg injury in an ugly loss to Kentucky, it looked a lot like a season-ender for the Gamecocks’ hopes, too. Thankfully, Shi Smith and OrTre Smith disagreed. The two freshmen have combined to step capably into Deebo’s large shoes: Shi has 187 yards and a touchdown, while OrTre has 113 and three scores. OrTre is also responsible for one of my favorite plays this year, despite the mess of a game it occurred in:
With Shi’s speed and OrTre’s size, the Gamecocks have some fun tools to work with at receiver moving forward.
The defensive line is starting to actually make some plays.
The defense has been this team’s backbone from Week 1, and it was gratifying to see that unit put on such an explosive performance against Arkansas. Defensive touchdowns are always fun, but what I arguably found even more enjoyable was watching a South Carolina defensive line wreak some havoc again. D.J. Wonnum led the charge with a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry, and two passes broken up against the Hogs, but guys like Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones have also made some big plays this season. The line is still a rough draft, but it’s finally flashing some potential for the first time in a long while.
If you’ve forgotten that cornerback Rashad Fenton is on the South Carolina roster, you’d be forgiven — his name doesn’t come up often on broadcasts. That’s because he’s been too busy locking down his man and allowing zero (0) touchdowns.
Book your trip to Fenton Island today! pic.twitter.com/ZrglaiTZD4— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) October 10, 2017
Fenton hasn’t been stuffing the stat sheet, but he’s made some key pass breakups and recovered a fumble. He also appears to be the defense’s most fiery and vocal leader, a void that has existed since the departure of D.J. Swearinger. Hopefully it’s a sign this unit is getting its swag back.
A backup quarterback took snaps, and not because the starter had been benched or because of some unfortunate quarterback carousel or because the Gamecocks were losing by a hopeless amount.
Seriously, when was the last time South Carolina put in the backup for genuine mop-up duty, much less mop-up duty against a Power 5 and SEC team? I don’t know how much more we’ll see Michael Scarnecchia this year, but shout out for that appearance against Arkansas.
Shifting gears a bit, the University of South Carolina’s athletic teams actually exist on social media now.
The Gamecocks’ total ineptitude at using Twitter in particular had been galling and frustrating to a lot of fans, particularly as Clemson’s football account garnered national praise and accolades for its creativity during the Tigers’ title run. Thankfully, USC’s athletic department decided to get serious over the offseason, bringing in fan favorite video god Justin King. Since King’s arrival, @GamecockFB has flourished with compelling, well-edited snippets that range from practice action to game highlights to even just getting on the bus for a road game. The biggest hit has probably been the weekly “battle armor” videos that serve as uniform announcements, as well as animated sketches that recreate a big play from the previous game. Ahead of the Arkansas matchup, the two were combined in one glorious package:
Now that South Carolina has finally joined the digitally driven 21st century, its social media accounts are no longer non-stop sources of cringe and instead deliver Content™ one can be proud of, which is a win for all involved. When you can say your school’s football team put out a Sonic the Hedgehog themed highlight clip and it was actually clever, you’re in a good place.
Related to the branding talk above, there’s one more thing I’ve been happy to see this season. It’s small, but had been quietly driving me crazy. Finally, my long nightmare is over:
The lettering on the press box matches the newer font used elsewhere in the stadium and on the uniforms.
If you hadn’t noticed this change from the bleached and decrepit lettering before, sincere congratulations — you’re not as neurotic as I am. Again, I know it’s small, but attention to detail is important with branding, especially when an organization is trying to take it up a notch after years of neglect. The university has done a phenomenal job with sprucing up Williams-Brice and beautifying its surroundings, and this was another step in that process.
Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts as we prepare to move into the second half of the season. Let us know what you guys have been enjoying so far!