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Offense dominates the Garnet and Black spring game, and other takeaways

It may not have been real football, but it was still football, dang it.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina’s annual Garnet and Black spring game came early this year, landing just before Easter and leaving us with a few morsels to get us through the long months without football. It’s hard to glean much from a scrimmage with limited contact, loose officiating, and several players out rehabbing injuries, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway. The scrimmage was in a standard format, with the first team (Black) taking on the second team (Garnet), though there was a bit of mixing and matching as the game progressed. Black came away with a 34-20 win over Garnet.

The offense

The rumors about going up-tempo were not exaggerated, as the Gamecocks got off to a blazing start and were frequently snapping the ball 15 seconds into the play clock. After the first few opening drives, South Carolina eased back on the throttle and settled into a more typical pace, though there was thankfully very little standing around and staring at the sideline.

Starting quarterback Jake Bentley put together the type of effort you’d expect, going 15-of-25 for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He looked decisive and comfortable directing the offense, and coach Will Muschamp said after the game he thinks Bentley plays better when he’s going faster.

As for the backups, fifth-year senior Michael Scarnecchia solidified himself as the No. 2 guy, putting together a 9-of-20 passing performance for 146 yards and a touchdown. True freshmen Jay Urich and Dakereon Joyner saw action as well, and unlike Bentley and Scarnecchia, were “live” and able to be tackled. Urich showed a little more scrambling ability than I’d been aware of, and clearly has an arm — most of his incompletions were overthrows. Joyner, as expected, looked good moving around with the ball in his hands, but he took a handful of sacks and lost a fumble on one as well. Joyner came in with a lot of hype, but is clearly still raw not just in the passing game, but across the board. It’ll be interesting to see whether he takes a redshirt year, or if the coaches continue to keep their options open with him.

At running back, Ty’Son Williams led the stable with 63 yards on four carries and scored the game’s first touchdown, a 27-yard burst up the middle. He looked ready to challenge AJ Turner, who had a nice scrimmage himself with 37 yards rushing and 52 receiving. Caleb Kinlaw saw a healthy amount of snaps, and true freshman Deshaun Fenwick got some reps as well. Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson sat out, but South Carolina looks to have solid depth.

On the other hand, the receiving corps was by far the weakest link. It wasn’t helped by the absence of Deebo Samuel and Shi Smith, but apart from Bryan Edwards’ performance (seven catches, 117 yards, one touchdown), there just wasn’t much to write home about. All four quarterbacks were victimized by drops, especially Scarnecchia, and many of them were wide-open receivers who just couldn’t complete the catch. That includes this guy:

Kiel Pollard had a couple big grabs at tight end, and fellow tight end Jacob August pulled in an 8-yard reception from Bentley. But it was a little disappointing to not see more from the receivers.

The defense

The purpose of this scrimmage seemed very much tilted toward seeing what the offense could put together. The SEC Network crew pointed out several times that the defense was vanilla, so it’s probably premature to start panicking about the 449 yards of offense allowed in the first half alone. That said, it wasn’t all bad; there were five “sacks,” including one from Shameik Blackshear, and two interceptions via Jaylan Foster and true freshman RJ Roderick. Another true freshman, Israel Mukuamu, showed the potential to provide an instant impact at defensive back, which makes Jamyest Williams’ move to safety more logical. Safety, incidentally, was a big problem during the scrimmage, with Bentley and the other quarterbacks able to exploit the middle of the field. We’ll just have to see how that shakes out once Williams is healthy again.

Special teams

Keisean Nixon saw the most work at punt return, and there were only a couple kickoffs to avoid potential injuries. (There’s no way anyone on this roster is coming for Deebo’s spot at kick return, anyway.) Parker White and Alexander Woznick made all of their field goals, with White hitting from 46 and 47 yards (the latter into the wind) and Woznick good from 40 and 37 yards. The punting from Joseph Charlton and backup Michael Almond wasn’t spectacular, but it was solid. All in all, a pretty good day for this unit, especially the placekickers.

And now the cold, dark offseason can officially begin. Sigh.