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What we Learned: South Carolina comes back to beat Tennessee

Each week, we break down five things we learned about South Carolina. After the Gamecocks’ comeback win over Tennessee, it seems possible that the season is turning.

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1. Slow starts continue, but a win’s a win

South Carolina’s poor starts continued Saturday as the Gamecocks found themselves in a 14-3 hole late in the first half. After a quick Tennessee touchdown to start the second half, the Gamecocks were down 21-9.

From there, they outscored Tennessee 18-3 to win, 27-24. It was the third straight game in which the Gamecocks overcame a double-digit first half deficit to tie or take the lead. After trailing 13-0 at the half and 16-0 in the third quarter to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks scored 16 unanswered points to tie it, 16-16. Ultimately losing 26-23. Similarly, the Gamecocks fell behind 17-7 to Missouri, winning 37-35.

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The Gamecocks are a pretty good second half team, outscoring six of their seven opponents after halftime. However, the team can’t continue to play from behind.

That being said, South Carolina is now 12-4 in one-score games under Will Muschamp and as ugly as Saturday’s win may have been, it counts.

2. Freshmen earn their positions

Dylan Wonnum was announced as the starter at right tackle Saturday and the freshman played well. South Carolina ran the ball well and the offensive line as a whole allowed just one sack, for which Jake Bentley took the blame himself. Going forward, Wonnum should be a staple in the starting lineup, potentially starting on the left side if Dennis Daley can’t go.

In the defensive backfield, RJ Roderick played extensively at strong safety, often in place of Steven Montac. Will Muschamp mentioned after the game that Montac has been dealing with a groin injury, but it does seem that Roderick has usurped him in the base defense (Montac played mostly as the sixth defensive back in the dime package). Roderick is listed at 6-foot, 207 pounds and has been productive in the back, registering five tackles Saturday.

Roderick played quarterback in high school and injured his neck shortly after switching to safety his senior season. With less than a year of experience at the position, Roderick has already seen his playing time increase steadily.

3. With pressure off, Bentley calm, cool and collected

South Carolina ran the ball on 71 percent of its plays, passing only 16 times all game. Aside from a miscommunication in the end zone and a batted pass that was ultimately intercepted, Jake Bentley was effective.

The junior finished 11 for 16, with 152 yards, a touchdown and the interception. Bentley watched another potential touchdown fall through the hands of receiver Shi Smith and saw Bryan Edwards get tackled at the two-yard line after a perfect deep ball.

When asked to throw less, Bentley ran the offense well. After the game, he attributed some of his play to an attitude change, saying he controlled his emotions well. Still, the Gamecocks ran for 224 yards on 40 carries. The running game should carry this team and Bentley should perform better if asked to do less going forward.

Also see: Insider recruiting scoop after a big win

4. McClendon was on the sideline

Muschamp said that offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon decided to call plays from the sideline in an effort to correct some of the issues with his receiver position group. Whether he stays on the field for the rest of the season or not, the move was made to marry play calling with position coaching. Since most coordinators prefer to call plays from the booth, it’ll be something to monitor going forward.

5. Establishing the run

As stated above, South Carolina ran the ball 40 times on 57 total plays, averaging 5.6 yards a carry. I’ll rely on the PFF data later this week to see how many tackles the running backs actually avoided, but at first glance the rushing totals were a team effort. Rico Dowdle had his best game this season by far, running for 140 yards on just 14 carries.

The running backs made players miss in space and also found success cutting the ball back to the weak side. Going forward, the running backs need to continue to play at that level for South Carolina’s offense to truly be a threat. That’ll be a total team effort, from the coaching decision to stay with the run to the offensive line to the running backs.