This one should be pretty easy to peg. The Gamecocks only had one victory in Lexington since the George W. Bush administration and were heavy underdogs as the week began. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis was out due to an injury but the Gamecocks physically dominated the Wildcats along both lines of scrimmage to get Shane Beamer his first SEC road victory. The Gamecocks will have plenty of opportunities to build off of their 24-14 victory going into the second half of the season.
Best Win: 24-14 @ #13 Kentucky
This one is very hard for me to nail down. I am going to actually split my MVPs.
The first one is an obvious choice. Marshawn Lloyd is finally healthy and has been the star that Gamecock fans believed he would be when he committed in May of 2019. He has battled back from an ACL injury as well as other nagging injuries that have held him out for his first two seasons in Columbia. That appears to be behind him, now. He is averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 8 touchdowns as well as averaging 9.9 yards per catch with 2 receiving touchdowns. Lloyd has had a great first half of the season and the Gamecocks will need him to have continued success in the second half.
My second choice for MVP on offense may surprise some but it shouldn’t. Jalen Brooks has stepped up this season and been the steady force from the opening drive of the Georgia State game and the Gamecocks have desperately needed it considering that Josh Vann has seen his production slip in 2022. Brooks is in his third season and final season in Columbia and is experiencing great success in 2022. Brooks has made multiple highlight catches for the Gamecocks but think back to Saturday night in Lexington. Carolina led 14-7 in the second half and was facing a long 3rd down and 9 near midfield where they had struggled all night. Brooks caught a crossing pattern from Rattler and ran down inside the Kentucky 25 yard line to set up a Mitch Jeter field goal to make the score 17-7. In the 4th quarter, Brooks carried a reverse for a 24 yard touchdown to seal the game midway through the 4th quarter. I look for Brooks to have a big second half to season.
Co-Offensive MVPs: Marshawn Lloyd and Jalen Brooks
Defensive tackle Zacch Pickens is in his senior season in Columbia and I have no idea where the Gamecocks would be without him on defense. Defensive linemen Jordan Strachan, Alex Huntley, and Terrell Dawkins have all missed significant time with injuries. Pickens has played nearly every meaningful snap for Carolina this year and has produced at a high level all season. Pickens has 27 total tackles on the season but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Anytime you watch the game, Pickens is always a focal point for the opposing offense to account for where he is and is always drawing double teams. He is another player that shined for the Gamecocks against the Wildcats on Saturday night. Once Kentucky had to abandon the running game when the score was 24-7, Pickens was living in the Kentucky backfield. The Gamecocks have had multiple players on defense that have had a great first half of the season, but Pickens is the absolute most important player on this defense from where I stand.
Defensive MVP: Zacch Pickens
Special Teams MVP
I am going a little off the beaten path here for this award. Carolina’s special teams across the board have just been spectacular in 2022 to this point. Field goals, two point plays, fake punts, blocked punts, kickoffs being touchbacks, kickoff coverage, punt teams, etc. it has all been awesome. Carolina’s special teams have made a huge difference in every game. The two blocked punts for touchdowns against Georgia State in the second half helped ease a lot of tension in Williams Brice on opening night. Beamer Ball has now relocated from Virginia Tech to South Carolina and it is making a huge difference for this team. Carolina is going to need continued success from the special teams going forward in 2022
Special Teams MVP: Pete Lembo
Best Offensive Newcomer
Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. continues to show flashes of being a monster for the Gamecocks at receiver. He has made multiple long touchdown catches and runs and his stats are jaw-dropping. Wells has 27 receptions for 375 yards and 2 touchdowns. That is an average of 13.9 yards per catch. The JMU transfer has been a great playmaker so far for the Gamecocks in 2022 and I anticipate him being a more consistent contributor going forward.
Best Offensive Newcomer: Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr.
Best Defensive Newcomer
Nick Emmanwori probably has an argument at defensive MVP. Much like the defensive line, the backend of the Carolina defense has suffered through injuries as well. Emmanwori has held things together in the Carolina secondary while also being someone that plays like a 4 year starter. However, Nick Emmanwori was playing for Irmo High School last year. He is a true freshman!!! A true freshman is not supposed to be playing the way he does in the SEC. In Carolina’s two losses to Arkansas and Georgia, Emmanwori was really one of the lone bright spots. In those 2 games he totaled 21 tackles. In the second half of the Georgia game he was still flying around and making plays in what was the low point of the 2022 season. Nick Emmanwori has First Team Freshman All SEC written all over him so far in 2022.
Best Defensive Newcomer: Nick Emmanwori