The Gamecocks got their season started with a win in Week 1. But it’s time for Week 2 and a bigger test as they head to the land of the cowbell: Starkville, Miss.
With Mississippi State on the clock, we take a closer look at five key things for the Gamecocks:
5. One week does not a season make
When it boils down to Week 1 outcomes, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs each saw their game come down to a field goal … mostly. South Carolina’s Elliott Fry made his to win the game. Mississippi State’s Westin Graves missed his.
South Carolina would be wise to remember that and from the way the players and Will Muschamp spoke Tuesday, they are not letting a 21-20 loss to South Alabama shake their view of MSU.
4. Expanding the passing attack
Freshman Bryan Edwards’ highlight debut overshadowed what was really an empty performance from the South Carolina wide receivers. The freshman and Deebo Samuel (2 catches, 36 yards) were the only two wide receivers to have receptions at Vanderbilt. Tight ends Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby all got in on the action, catching a combined 3 passes for 23 yards.
So what comes next? The Gamecocks are going up against a thin and relatively inexperienced group of Mississippi State cornerbacks that they should be able to attack well after South Alabama threw for 285 yards on Saturday.
Getting the tight ends, particularly Hurst, more involved in the offense is a must as the Gamecocks employ two-tight-end sets often. Beyond Edwards and Samuel, the Gamecocks need more wide receivers to emerge. Jamari Smith is the third starter, but he was the main offender in the drops department against Vanderbilt. Can one of the freshmen take a step forward and make a mark in the playing group? It would go a long way in presenting a wider attack in the passing game.
3. Quick off the block
South Carolina’s season-opening win was largely a tale of two halves. The offense was stagnant due to penalties and miscues in the first half, but the second half saw better execution and points as a result.
The Gamecocks had explosive plays against Vanderbilt, but won’t be able to count on such a concentrated volume of them in future games. So, start strong, stay ahead and be a little bit more aggressive early. The change in Vanderbilt’s defense after the first couple of deep completions was noted by quarterback Perry Orth on Tuesday. The senior noted that once Edwards started to get loose, the coverage softened.
The Gamecocks will be in better position in the first half moving forward, with a little bit more of the foot on the gas early with better execution.
2. Pop the bubble
The Dak Prescott era is over, but the short passing attack, use of the quarterback run and the bubble screen all remain at Mississippi State.
South Carolina struggled with some bubble screens against Vanderbilt, which Muschamp noted Sunday night in his teleconference. The Gamecocks worked through drills to stop the bubble screen a lot in camp and the test of that work could be amped up this week.
With Damian Williams at quarterback, the Bulldogs have their primary offensive weapon as both a passer and a runner. But the quick passing game is intact with Williams or co-starter Nick Fitzgerald, as Dan Mullen still runs with what has been a staple of his offensive attack in recent weeks.
1. Don’t shrink the margin for error
South Carolina’s offense has yet to solidify. The defense played fairly well in Game 1. USC’s margin for error remains minuscule.
South Carolina had 2 turnovers that led to what can be seen as a 10-point swing. Brandon McIlwain fumbled at the Vanderbilt 12-yard line in one of USC’s two red-zone trips. Samuel fumbled a punt return, leading to a Vanderbilt field goal. USC had eight games decided by 10 points or less in 2015. It’s likely there will be several close games this season. South Carolina can’t afford costly and foolish mistakes.
The issue of drops that was present in fall camp and remains present applies here, as well.