To South Carolina’s credit, they’ve brought some fun wide receivers into the program over the last 25 years.
Every season it always seems like there’s one playmaker South Carolina can depend on — even in the disparaging 2015 season Pharoh Cooper gave Gamecock fans something to be excited about.
In 2016 Deebo Samuel became the heir to the title of “exciting, dependable receiver” and evolved into something much more in 2017. Following two dude-worthy showings against NC State and Missouri Samuel was starting to gain national recognition for his big play ability and his shared namesake with the infamous character from the movie “Friday”.
But Saturday saw all of that potential and hype vaporized in the blink of an eye when Samuel rolled up his leg while being tackled for a first down late in the third quarter. It looked painful, but not particularly gruesome from the outset. Here’s the gif for those who haven’t seen it yet:
It looks like he just rolls up his foot and maybe sprained an ankle, but as it turns out this is much worse. It was initially reported by Will Muchamp himself Samuel was done for the season, but Samuel came back out and said it was a fractured ankle. So instead of being gone for the season, Samuel will miss around five to six weeks.
While this isn’t as bad as missing the season, it’s still no less catastrophic for the Gamecock offense. Samuel has scored six touchdowns by himself — more than the entire Florida Gators offense combined through two games. To put that in a broader perspective, South Carolina’s scored 13 touchdowns as a team this season.
Samuel has essentially been the South Carolina offense over the past three weeks. See here’s the dirty little secret no one’s been talking about: South Carolina’s offense has been pedestrian at best over the last two weeks.
Fans like to jump up-and-down with excitement because SC posted back-to-back 30 point games, but points per game is a flawed metric. To really analyze offensive performance you need to break it down to the play-by-play data — which is why we turn to Bill Connelly and his S&P statistics.
Against Missouri and NC State, South Carolina’s offense was ranked 64th in the country in total offensive S&P+, but were also ranked 86th in success rate and 54th in explosiveness. To break it down in simple terms, South Carolina gets bailed out by big plays when their offense can’t stay on track.
The Gamecock offense too often finds themselves in passing downs (2nd-&-7, 3rd-&-6) so they need big passing plays to get themselves out of trouble. Samuel was the big play South Carolina used to bail themselves out of bad situations. Now, I don’t know who is going to be the inefficiency eraser for South Carolina.
Bryan Edwards has been underwhelming through two games and Hayden Hurst has been good but doesn’t have the breakaway speed of Samuel to turn a slant into a 68 yard touchdown. Does Shi Smith or OrTre Smith take up this mantle? It’s tough to say.
Another issue a Deebo-less South Carolina has is the return game. Deebo was two-for-two on kickoff returns for touchdowns and Kentucky wanted no part of it. The opening kickoff was a great example of how a team will concede field position rather than risk Samuel converting a kick into six points. Kentucky opted to bloop the ball to the 25 yard line rather than let Samuel have a piece of the action.
South Carolina’s average starting field position going into Saturday’s game was on their own 30.6 yard line, or 31 if we want to round up. In the supposed “game of inches” football is an extra yard of field position can make all the difference.
Rico Dowdle is the only kick returner to have a return over 20 yards in Samuel’s absence. Considering South Carolina is missing their big play bailout man, they’ll need all the help in gaining field position they can get. Except their field position advantage is their big play bailout guy, so there in lies another hole to fill for Muschamp and his staff.
Finally, what’s Kurt Roper going to do when he can’t use Hurst as a receiver? Remember the NC State game where Hurst only had one catch? Well he was being utilized as a blocker in that game to help deal with NC State’s overwhelming defensive front and did a great job at it too.
If what Samuel says is true, that means at the earliest he’ll be back for the Nov. 4 match up with Georgia. When you look at the defensive lines Georgia, Florida and Clemson possess — Hurst will almost certainly be used as a blocker in those games and thus elevating the importance of Samuel as a pass catcher.
According to this article by the AAOS, it can take six weeks just to put weight on the ankle after its been fractured — let alone running full speed on it. I know fans want to be optimistic, but there’s a strong chance Samuel never gets back to 100 percent this season.
Samuel is more than just a receiver — he’s a star who impacts three aspects of the game: explosiveness, field position and even pass protection. This isn’t any ordinary loss, this is a devastating blow for the Gamecocks hopes in 2017.
Samuel isn’t replaceable. There isn’t another player on the roster who can do the things Samuel does. Roper has a lot to figure out against Louisiana Tech this weekend to try and find some explosiveness.
I wish Samuel the speediest and best kind of recovery possible. But for Gamecock fans, I want you to lower your expectations now. It’s only going to help you down the road just in case this Samuel problem is as bad as I expect it to be.