With the bye week winding down, I figured it’s a good time to take stock and evaluate who’s been standing out for the South Carolina Gamecocks thus far — and, let’s be honest, we could all use a look at the brighter side of things around here. It’s a long season, and there’s still roughly half of it to go, but these are the Gamecocks who have made an impact.
Offensive MVP: Shi Smith
After catching literally everything thrown his way, it’s true the dropsies finally infected the sure-handed Smith in the loss to Texas A&M. But Smith was also the biggest reason the Gamecocks even got back in that game, and all season long he’s been the most reliable and explosive playmaker in South Carolina’s offense despite being third on the team in receiving yards. Get him the ball, and good things happen; fans are clamoring for Smith to get more touches for a reason.
Defensive MVP: Bryson Allen-Williams
The South Carolina defense has put in a lot of hard work this season, but it’s the type of unit that lacks an identifiable star, and so singling out a specific player was hard to do. I eventually settled on Allen-Williams, who has probably been the most consistently disruptive Gamecock. Allen-Williams, as one of the few grizzled veterans, has also shown off a lot of versatility, rotating through several positions along the defensive line and in the linebacking corps as the Gamecocks have tried to scheme around the absence of the injured DJ Wonnum. “BAW” is not necessarily a guy who will stuff the stat sheet, but if there’s a big play around the line of scrimmage, chances are high that he’s involved.
Best Unit: Offensive Line
We’ve talked about how the offensive line has been a pleasant surprise, but it bears repeating. Prior to the season, both the fans and the coaches were worried about what kind of functional depth the Gamecocks had, and just how well the unit would come together after the departures of Alan Knott and Cory Helms. Instead, we’re looking at one of the best offensive lines the Gamecocks have had in years, even if the run blocking does leave a bit to be desired at times. Coach Eric Wolford has really whipped this group into shape since returning to South Carolina, and it’s a shame the offense hasn’t been able to take better advantage of it.
Most Improved: Parker White
What a turnaround it’s been for White, who went from being one of the most criticized Gamecocks in 2017 to arguably the most reliable facet of the special teams play this season. A year after going 14-of-25 for just a 56 percent hit rate and missing most of his attempts beyond 40 yards, White has only one miss to his name and famously hit the game-winner against Missouri. South Carolina badly needed stability in the kicking game, and so far, it looks like the staff’s patience with White is finally paying off.
Craziest Performance: Javon Kinlaw
Shifting gears back to the defense, I wanted to be able to give a shout out to Kinlaw’s monster game against Vanderbilt. He was an absolute terror in the Commodores’ backfield, relentlessly harassing Kyle Shurmur & Co. to the tune of five tackles — three of which were for loss — two sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup, and a couple quarterback hurries. It was the type of dominant showing reminiscent of Jadeveon Clowney’s days as a Gamecock, and Kinlaw has been dealing with double teams ever since. Hopefully Wonnum’s return can free him up to do some more damage moving forward.
Most Clutch: Michael Scarnecchia
I also had to give a shout out to Scarnecchia here, because the guy just plain deserves it. A fifth-year senior who had all of 13 pass attempts in his career and had never played meaningful snaps led the Gamecocks to a much-needed and potentially season-saving victory against Missouri. (And he did it in the rain, no less.) It was awesome to see him rewarded, and of course thrilling to watch South Carolina win a game it potentially could have lost big without Jake Bentley. While I’m not one of those who thinks Scarnecchia should start, I do think he deserves more opportunities to help the Gamecocks. Job well done.
Most Impressive Freshman: Jaycee Horn
Horn is another player who has already received plenty of praise from GABA, but you can’t make a list like this without him on it. Horn carried recruiting hype with him to Columbia and immediately garnered praise from the coaching staff during fall camp, which culminated in him landing a starting spot at corner. So far, he’s done a great job of delivering on that promise, helping lock down South Carolina’s secondary — which many expected would be a weakness. Horn already looks like he could have a special career as a Gamecock.
What about y’all? Who are your season MVPs to this point?