Five Takeaways: Two freshman defenders stand out against Akron
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS FOOTBALL
South Carolina’s regular season ended a week later than initially expected due to a canceled game earlier in the year against Marshall. After the Gamecocks took care of business against Akron, 28-3, here are five takeaways.
1. The nightmarish injury situation got worse
South Carolina was clearly the better team Saturday. Accordingly, the Gamecocks just needed to get through the day injury-free and await the announcement on their impending bowl destination.
South Carolina made it three seconds shy of three quarters before being bitten once again by the injury bug. Instead of letting the clock run down to the end of the quarter, South Carolina snapped it and ran an inside zone with Mon Denson. Senior guard Zack Bailey fell in a heap with what looked like a severe ankle injury.
Shi Smith also missed the game after coming down with back spasms. If anything, the end of the regular season will give the Gamecocks an opportunity to heal.
2. Bryan Edwards is underappreciated
After a five catch, 109-yard day, Bryan Edwards is seventh in school history with 2192 career receiving yards and fifth with 160 receptions. With a solid bowl showing, he should climb another couple spots on each list.
The junior has now caught a pass in 37 straight games, dating back to his first career game at Vanderbilt in 2016. With his 70-yard touchdown against the Zips, Edwards set his career-highs in yards and touchdowns.
3. Surprise Freshmen
I was a fan of South Carolina’s 2018 recruiting class, but I have to admit that I didn’t expect Kingsley Enagbare or RJ Roderick to play this well, this early. Each seems to have solidified his starting role next season with strong play down the stretch.
As Roderick becomes more comfortable in his new position, he is showing flashes of being the enforcer South Carolina has sorely missed in its secondary since the days of DJ Swearinger. Enagbare is quickly becoming one of South Carolina’s best defenders after a monster day Saturday. In addition to registering his first career sack, Enagbare picked up two tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and four run stops — all best on the team.
Add to their play solid showings from Israel Mukuamu and Ernest Jones and South Carolina has a young group of defenders that could be great in a couple years.
4. There’s a Learning Curve to Team Management
In the defense of the entire coaching staff, there hasn’t been enough depth until this season to even warrant creating a plan for these types of games. In three games against non-Power Five competition, the Gamecocks won by an average of 33 points. However, Jake Bentley played over three quarters of a 49-15 win over Coastal Carolina and all of the Akron game.
South Carolina’s first-team offensive line played far too long in each, as did the first-team receivers. Deshaun Fenwick had only four carries in a 25-point win.
Will Muschamp will get better at managing the roster as the team gets deeper. Ultimately, at 7-5, the team needs to be as focused on next year as this year.
5. Bowl Season Starts … Later
Muschamp is excited for bowl practices as much, or more so, than the game itself. In fact, he and the staff won’t even be watching the selection show tomorrow. Jacksonville, Memphis and Charlotte don’t really matter (since the Gamecocks recruit in all of those geographical areas), as much as the opportunity to get some more practice reps.
While Muschamp is not allowed to publicly comment on any individual prospects prior to signing, it’s obvious that recruiting is the top priority for the staff right now. The bowl will come later, but right now the focus is on finishing the recruiting class on a high note. Then it becomes an opportunity to get extra practices. Once those two things are accomplished, then the focus will be winning the bowl game, wherever it may be.