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. The special teams units featured a pair of known commodities kicking and punting, but a solid dose of struggles in the return game.
We take a look back at the special teams’ performances and assign positional grades:
Elliott Fry provided the Gamecocks with their most significant play this season: A 55-yard, winning field goal in the season-opener at Vanderbilt. A win in Will Muschamp’s first game came on his right leg, a win that also helped lead to a bowl berth. Fry had a solid final year as a Gamecock, hitting 13 of 17 field-goal attempts and all 31 of his extra-point attempts. He also became the school’s all-time leading scorer this season.
Grade: A –
Like Fry, Sean Kelly was a reliable presence for the Gamecocks in a season with changes and turmoil at many spots. He wasn’t always healthy, but averaged around 42 yards per punt throughout the season. He sat out the bowl game and Michael Almond stepped in, performing well with a pair of punts.
Grade: A –
A.J. Turner had an almost-disaster on the first return of the season, but he got better from there. He had a long return against ECU to set up an early touchdown. But the position got even better when Deebo Samuel took over as Turner missed time with an injury. Samuel returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina – a 100-yard score. He was explosive in the return game, as one would expect. South Carolina actually led the SEC in kickoff return average with 25.8 yards per return.
This is an area that gave Muschamp a headache as much as any. South Carolina had a revolving door at punt returner because no one could consistently field the ball. Deebo Samuel had his chance, Chris Lammons, Rashad Fenton, Jamarcus King and even Hayden Hurst got opportunities. All struggles in various ways with either muffed punts or other mistakes. Lammons finally took the spot regularly, but it took until the bowl game for the punt return game to have an impact. It was a big one – Lammons set up the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter against South Florida – but it was too little after a long season of nothing.