Will Muschamp’s first season at South Carolina is a thing of the past. The Gamecocks went 6-7, made it to a bowl game and had a signature win in an upset of then-No. 18 Tennessee.
So now, it’s time to consider the successes and failures of Muschamp’s first team. Its strength came in the passing game, providing a foundation for improvement in other key areas.
We take a look back at the offense’s performances and assign positional grades.
Three started for the Gamecocks in 2016. The first-half grade is much higher because freshman Jake Bentley took established himself as starter, closing the revolving door manned by senior Perry Orth and fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain.
Quarterback remains an average overall position, but Bentley went 4-2 in a breakout finish. He completed 65.8 percent of his passes with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, 2 of which came in the Birmingham Bowl.
It wasn’t always pretty, but without the Bentley-led change in the second half, South Carolina would not have in a bowl.
Grade: B –
South Carolina finished 106th of 128 teams in rushing yards per game. Only Florida has a less successful ground game among SEC teams. Blame inconsistent line play for some of the problem, but the running backs also weren’t always great.
Rico Dowdle, a freshman like Bentley, injected life into the attack. Dowdle had the best balance of skills, power and speed and elusiveness. A.J. Turner, also a freshman, was a good speed option and made big plays. David Williams, a junior, had one big game but not much else.
It was a ho-hum year for Gamecocks running backs, but things should improve with three proven players returning.
Depth was a huge concern entering the season; how prophetic. Earl injuries left the position depleted and manned by young players. But by season’s end sophomore Deebo Samuel was a go-to receiver putting up big numbers. Bryan Edwards, yet another freshman, paired nicely with Samuel as a downfield threat.
Chavis Dawkins had a few moments. Randrecous Davis showed potential in limited action. Both are freshmen. See a pattern here?
Samuel and Edwards will provide a good 1-2 punch, but Muschamp and staff need more from Gamecocks wide receivers. It appears problems were solved with the ascendance of Bentley.
Grade: B –
Sophomore Hayden Hurst led the best position unit on the South Carolina offense. In fact, Hurst had one of the best seasons ever for a South Carolina tight end. He was used in a lot of ways, from screens to slot receiver to anything else, and he excelled at it all. He is athletic and strong and should get national attention in 2017.
K.C. Crosby was a solid slot tight end, and the offense often uses two TEs. He was a good red zone threat. Jacob August and Kiel Pollard provided depth, but Hurst and Crosby were the guys. Pollard was a sophomore and elder of the crew. The other three were freshmen.
Grade: A –
The expected strength of the South Carolina offense was not. Coaches and players expected much better line play entering the season, hoping the return of experienced players would pay off. But the unit never was solid in run blocking nor pass protection.
The right side of the line struggled in particular. Sophomore Zack Bailey was good at left guard. Left tackle Mason Zandi improved throughout his senior season. But the rest of the linemen were less reliable. The Gamecocks gave up 41 sacks, among the 10 highest totals in the nation. And they were never stead at the point of attack in the run game.