South Carolina never made it easy on their fans, but even after trailing for 55 minutes and 59 seconds the Gamecocks found the most unlikely of ways to escape being embarrassed by Louisiana Tech.
Parker White, the kicker who missed the first four field goal attempts in a Gamecock uniform, nailed a 31-yarder after being iced twice by LA Tech to give South Carolina a 17-16 lead and go ahead win. This was by no means what the team needed after the loss to Kentucky, but at the end of the day South Carolina avoided a loss to a G-5 team.
I’ll be the first to admit had someone told me in the preseason South Carolina would start the season 3-1 I would have been elated. But to be 3-1 in the fashion SC is doesn’t make me feel so good — even with the win over NC State.
Either way, I still have five observations from Saturday’s game. Let’s roll through them:
Ty’son’s the man
It appears the coaching staff learned their lesson after not giving Ty’son Williams a single touch in last week’s loss to Kentucky. He was no doubt the No. 1 back against Louisiana Tech Saturday, touching the ball 15 times for a total of 109 yards and one sweet 35-yard touchdown run.
Putting the fumble he had aside, Williams was consistently breaking off five-yard runs and keeping South Carolina’s offense on track when he was given the chance. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence the only other time SC’s run game looked worth a crap — the second half against Missouri — Williams was in the middle of it.
Going forward Williams has to be the No. 1 back for South Carolina. Through four games I think he’s proven he’s the most consistent option South Carolina has and Saturday was a punctuation of that assertion.
Bryan Edwards is a DUDE
After we learned South Carolina was going to lose Deebo Samuel for the forseeable future, I posed the question of who would be able to come up with big plays on offense. Through three games Bryan Edwards, who had a terrific freshman season in 2016, had been relatively quiet.
Not Saturday though — Edwards was an electric option in the passing game and looked like the player I always thought he’d develop into. Big time players come up in big moments and that’s exactly what Edwards did when he went up and bailed Jake Bentley out of that 41-yard heave to set up the game winning field goal.
Edwards gobbled up 122 yards receiving on six catches — with two going for 41 yards and 39 yards. He’s going to have to pull out those kind of performances from here on out if SC expects to be competitive with anyone, let alone LA Tech.
Kicking is still an issue
I know White made the kick that finally mattered, but let’s not forget South Carolina wouldn’t have to worry about a game-winning kick if White simply makes his first two field goals. This game was made much more stressful because of SC’s inability to find a consistent option at kicker.
It’s clear at this point in the season South Carolina doesn’t have the capability to finish drives, so having a kicker who can consistently hit field goals in the 40 yard range will be necessary to get points on the board. White nor Alexander Wozniak have proven they can do that.
Until this offense can prove they can produce touchdowns on a regular basis, White or Wozniak has to get better at kicking. And I’m not so confident they can do that quick enough to make a real difference this season.
Pass defense, you up?
This problem came up again Saturday after being a major one against Kentucky. Granted, I’ll admit ignorance on the quality of LA Tech’s receivers but Bill Connelly’s metrics, which I trust, seemed to indicate the Bulldogs passing game was below average at best.
But those Bulldog receivers were able to get separation from Gamecock defensive backs with an unsettling consistency. LA Tech picked up 12 of their 17 first downs through the air and QB J’Mar Smith completed over 66 percent of his passes at 8.5 yards a pass.
To put that in perspective, Smith came into Saturday’s game completing 51.5 percent of his passes at 6.5 yards an attempt through three games. You can factor in the fact SC had only one sack in 34 pass attempts, but it is not at all encouraging a 50 percent passer had his best game against your defense.
Jake Bentley needs to be better
In our preseason predictions article we ran back at the beginning of the month, I said South Carolina could win seven games this season if two things happened: they developed a pass rush and Jake Bentley didn’t suffer a sophomore slump.
I wouldn’t call this a slump but Bentley certainly doesn’t look much different than he did last year. Granted, he didn’t get the best protection with Zack Bailey out and Corey Helms leaving with an injury but there were a lot of yards left on the table with some wide open throws including that ghastly interception he threw in the first half.
At the end of the game Bentley did make the plays necessary to help SC pull out a win, but the Gamecocks were only there because of a handful of Bentley’s mistakes. He has to play better with Arkansas and Texas A&M coming up next on the schedule — as we know now those two teams can score in bunches when they want to.