South Carolina football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Gamecocks, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The South Carolina Offense
The offense hardly resembled anything Steve Spurrier would’ve ever put together scoring just 22 points per game and not doing much of anything quite right. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper isn’t going to do anything too quirky out of the gate – expect the power ground game, at least as much as possible.
Do the Gamecocks have the running backs? David Williams is the top returning rusher, but it’s going to take a village to try doing the types of things Will Muschamp likes out of his offense. It’s going to be even tougher to do behind a line missing three starters and needing time to retool.
The receiving corps might not be all that bad with a little bit of time, even with top target Pharoh Cooper and TE Jerell Adams gone. The numbers won’t be massive, but Deebo Samuel leads a promising group that should improve if the quarterback play is stronger.
It’s just a question of time before true freshman Brandon McIlwain takes over. There are other options with Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez seeing time last season and pushing for the gig, but with Connor Mitch transferring, the fight got easier. No matter who starts – likely McIlwain, at least at some point – the production from the position has to be far, far better.
Biggest Key To The South Carolina Offense
Get the offensive line together in a hurry. The coaching staff moved the pieces of the puzzle around throughout the spring to see what it had to work with. It’s going to continue to be a work in progress with lots of shuffling and lots of depth chart changes before finally settling on the right starting five. However this works, the ground game has to be far better after running for over 200 yards three times – doing it in two of the three wins – and sputtering way too often. For a team that had a problem controlling games, it has to start up front.
What You Need To Know About The South Carolina Defense
There’s work to do for a defense that did what it could to keep most games close, but couldn’t do any one thing all that well. New defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson combines with Muschamp’s defensive mind to mold this interesting group of talents. However, just five starters are back hurt most by the loss of the team’s best player, Skai Moore, who was knocked out for the year with a neck injury.
With Moore out, the linebacking corps loses is star, but it should still be a big plus with a little bit of time. T.J. Holloman has to rise up and do even more with a relatively thin rotation at all the spots, but there’s plenty of speed and athleticism to work with.
The line needs to generate more of a pass rush for a D that couldn’t do enough to be disruptive, but the biggest key early on will be to hold up better against the run. Marquavius Lewis now becomes the team’s best defender with Moore done, and Darius English returns as the team’s top sacker, but as long as the veteran tackles do their job, the line will see a big improvement.
And then there’s the secondary. Either the coaches were just trying to fire up the defensive backfield, or they really are concerned that this is going to be a rocky year for the pass defense. The corners are just okay, but Jordan Diggs and the safeties can pop – if Diggs doesn’t move to linebacker at times.
Biggest Key To The South Carolina Defense
It’s time to ramp up the defensive pressure again. At least there was an improvement after generating just 14 sacks in 2014, but the 20 last year still weren’t enough. Can the new coaching staff get the D up to the 43 sacks in 2012? There’s speed and athleticism in the defensive front seven, and with a shaky secondary, the pressure has to come.
South Carolina Will Be Far Better If …
The close wins go the right way. It’s never fair to look at things this way, especially in the SEC, but four of South Carolina’s six losses in 2014 were by seven points or fewer, and last year, five of the nine losses were by a touchdown or less. Muschamp’s teams rely on tough defense, ball control, and winning the close calls. If USC pulled off three of the five tough losses, it would’ve gone bowling and it wouldn’t have seemed like such an uphill climb coming into the season.
Best South Carolina Offensive Player
QB Brandon McIlwain, Fr. – Let’s just cut to the chase – McIlwain might not be ready for primetime, and he’s going to make a ton of rookie errors, and he might not even win the starting job, but he needs to be the team’s catalyst and star. He’s a dynamic dual-threat playmaker with the quickness and skills to be the one the program builds around for the next four years. He set the tone in spring ball, and now he has to take it one step further.
Best South Carolina Defensive Player
DE Marquavius Lewis, Sr. – This was supposed to be Skai Moore’s spot, but things changed after he injured his neck. Lewis isn’t a bad option for the top defensive player with good toughness against the run and enough pass rushing upside to be dangerous. He didn’t live up to the hype last year after coming in as a JUCO superstar, but now that’s about to change.
Key Player To A Successful Season
RB David Williams, Jr. – Williams and redshirt freshman A.J. Turner are the backs who have to make the O go, considering there aren’t a slew of other obvious options. McIlwain – or any of the quarterbacks – will add plenty to the rushing attack, but for the O to work the running backs have to handle the load. Turner is the smallish speedster who can hit the home run, while Williams is the leading retuning rusher with 6-1, 216-pound size to provide a thump.
The South Carolina Season Will Be A Success If …
The Gamecocks get back to a bowl game. The team wasn’t coached last season, and now it’ll be far tighter defensively and the offense should be a bit more effective. There are just enough soft games to expect nothing less than six regular season wins, and even push for eight. The schedule isn’t bad with no Alabama, no LSU, and no Ole Miss to deal with from the West.
Sept. 1 at Vanderbilt – The Gamecocks have won seven in a row in the series since losing in 2008, but they’re going to be the underdog to start the season on the road in the SEC opener. The Commodores have another great defense, but no offense. If this is going to turn into a bounceback year, this is the type of game USC has to pull out, especially with a road trip to Mississippi State to follow.
2015 South Carolina Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Opponents 20 (lost 8) – South Carolina 18 (lost 3)
– Field Goals: Opponents 12-of-13 – South Carolina 20-of-28
– First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 80 – South Carolina 35