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South Carolina football 2017 season preview: Offense must take huge leaps from 2016

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The O wasn’t very good for the Gamecocks last year. With Jake Bentley stepping in with a year under his belt, a promising set of WRs, and a deep RB pool, will things swing upward in 2017?

Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Tyler Lecka/Getty Images

To kick off our 2017 season preview, let’s talk a little about the South Carolina offense. The numbers might be a little NSFW.

In the first year of the Will Muschamp era, the Gamecocks’ offense finished 107th (out of 128) in offensive S&P+ last year. (Even in the 3-9 season in 2015, they were 69th in this department!) While they won six games, they never really won any games convincingly, which a) isn’t sustainable against elite offenses if you can’t keep up with them even when your defense is failing and b) won’t get you anywhere against some of the better defenses on the schedule. (S&P+ is an excellent metric developed by SBN’s own Bill Connelly based on what he calls “five factors”. You can read more about those five factors here.)

If you want to look at things more traditionally, we can help you out there as well:

  • South Carolina quarterbacks averaged 213.2 yards through the air in 2016, which was 83rd in the country. Not terrible, but not great, either. This stat might be a bit deceiving because a team more reliant on defense and running the ball still can win without leaning too much on the passing game. (Perfect example from last year: Alabama.) But South Carolina didn’t have much success in either stopping opposing offenses or getting going on the ground, putting more pressure on Jake Bentley to make plays. And while he did that at points, there were still some freshman tendencies he needed to iron out.
  • I mentioned that running the ball was a struggle for South Carolina: they averaged 134.4 yards on the ground - 108th in the country. While part of that rests on the ball carrier, a lot of that (including quarterback performance, of course) falls on the offensive line. More on that in a second.

The main knock on Muschamp-coached teams is that while they may perform well defensively (his Florida teams finished 13th, 1st, 4th, and 6th in S&P+ during his four years in Gainesville), offense has been a little more hard to come by (78th, 39th, 83rd, 74th in that same span). While there are several questions that need to be answered for the Gamecocks on the defensive side of the ball, if they’re to be taken seriously as a team to beat in the SEC East, they must figure things out offensively.

Projected Depth Chart

QB: Jake Bentley/Michael Scarnecchia/Danny Gordon
This is an easy call: Jake Bentley is the starting quarterback. (It feels weird that there’s no quarterback controversy this year, doesn’t it?)

RB: Rico Dowdle/A.J. Turner/Ty’Son Williams
While Dowdle will be the featured back, I really like the pieces behind him. A.J. Turner will be thrown in to switch it up to give Dowdle a blow when he needs it and Ty’son Williams has gotten rave reviews.

WR: Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel, Shi Smith
WR2: OrTre Smith, Dreak Davis OR Terry Googer, Chavis Dawkins OR Chad Terrell
Bentley will certainly have a good amount of weapons to throw to, and if given time in the pocket to make his reads, should benefit from having players like Edwards and Samuel (and Hurst at TE, for sure) at his disposal. I thought that the staff would slot OrTre Smith in at one of the lead WR spots; however, I’d still look for a lot of him in the offense.

TE: Hayden Hurst/K.C. Crosby/Jacob August/Kiel Pollard
The Gamecocks are very deep at TE with August, Crosby, and Pollard among the group behind Hurst. That gives them the flexibility to redshirt freshman Will Register and get him ready for 2018. I’m with Hale McGranahan, who sees Crosby slotted in an H-back role much like last season. Hurst, by the way, who was draft eligible this spring (at 23, he was more than three years removed from graduating high school despite being a sophomore - you know, because of the whole baseball thing), may have a decision to make with another strong season.

OL: Malik Young, Donell Stanley, Alan Knott, Cory Helms, Zack Bailey
A lot of people thought Dennis Daley would make a move past Young into LT, but that’s not the case. Watch that spot on the front five, though. The rest should be fairly stable barring injury and overall performance dropoff, though we may see D.J Park rotate in at LG and Christian Pellage spell Bailey on occasion.

Biggest concern: Offensive line play

We named Malik Young as the team’s second-most important player for a reason: if he’s not at his best, that could stunt Bentley’s development as a sophomore, especially as Young lines up against some of the better DEs in the country (starting with Bradley Chubb on Saturday). I could have very well put down Cory Helms and Zack Bailey on the right side of the line, or probably this entire group, as well. As they go, much of the success of this offense will go. It looks like a lot of you agree.

We're putting together our South Carolina Gamecocks football season previews right now. What is your biggest concern for the OFFENSE in 2017? Let us know and we may use it in our article on Monday!

Posted by Garnet and Black Attack on Saturday, August 26, 2017

We're putting together our South Carolina Gamecocks football season previews right now. What is your biggest concern for the OFFENSE in 2017? Let us know and we may use it in our article on Monday!

Posted by Garnet and Black Attack on Saturday, August 26, 2017

We're putting together our South Carolina Gamecocks football season previews right now. What is your biggest concern for the OFFENSE in 2017? Let us know and we may use it in our article on Monday!

Posted by Garnet and Black Attack on Saturday, August 26, 2017

Key Returnees and Stats

Quarterback

Player GP COMP ATT % YDS YPA TD INT SACK
Player GP COMP ATT % YDS YPA TD INT SACK
Jake Bentley 7 125 190 64.8 1420 7.47 9 4 24

Receiving

Player GP REC YDS YPC TD
Player GP REC YDS YPC TD
Deebo Samuel 10 59 783 13.3 1
Hayden Hurst 13 48 616 12.8 1
Bryan Edwards 12 44 590 13.4 4
K.C. Crosby 12 23 217 9.4

Rushing

Player GP ATT YDS YPA TD
Player GP ATT YDS YPA TD
Rico Dowdle 9 133 764 5.7 6
A.J. Turner 12 116 497 4.3 3
Deebo Samuel 10 15 98 6.5 6