South Carolina’s offense was a tale of many seasons in 2016. It was three quarterbacks, a handful of running backs and a whole lot of youth.
And despite not having the biggest numbers in the nation, it provided plenty of highlights and big plays throughout the season. We revisit the top 5 offensive plays for the Gamecocks through 2016:
5. A.J. Turner’s explosive start to October
For the first month of the season, South Carolina struggled to find explosive plays on offense. Then came Oct. 1 and with it came the longest play of the season for the Gamecocks.
On the first play of USC’s game against Texas A&M, running back A.J. Turner lined up to Brandon McIlwain’s right. He took a handoff coming across to the left with a pair of offensive linemen in front of him. He followed Alan Knott through the hole, hit the gap and was off down the sideline. Turner broke a tackle from A&M’s Justin Evans, cut back across the field at the 25 and ran into the end zone.
4. Rico Dowdle’s spin and score
Dowdle broke into the South Carolina lineup and scored touchdowns in four straight games. His fourth game brought a big highlight in a 21-21 game against Missouri.
Late in the third quarter, Dowdle took a handoff and cut back to his right. He burst through the middle, planted and spun to his left around a would-be tackle from Mizzou safety Cam Hilton at the 15-yard line and fell into the end zone through another tackle attempt.
3. Jake Bentley arrives
Bentley’s first true highlight as a South Carolina quarterback came when he almost fell over celebrating the first touchdown scored in his career — a handoff to Dowdle.
But his first touchdown pass was a thing of beauty. The freshman dropped back in the second quarter, tossed a perfect ball into a tight window, where a diving K.C. Crosby made a tremendous touchdown catch.
It was just a 16-yard touchdown, but it seemed like so much more for a team that had not thrown a touchdown pass in the previous four games.
2. Deebo Samuel only needs one hand
Long before South Carolina upset Tennessee, an early highlight gave promise that the Gamecocks could be in for a decent night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
On the opening drive for USC, Bentley floated a ball into 1-on-1 coverage for Samuel. The sophomore wide receiver was being grabbed and held by Tennessee’s Baylen Buchanan, but stuck out his left arm and hauled in the pass with one hand as he tumbled down inside the 5-yard line.
The play drew pass interference, but it didn’t matter because of Samuel’s highlight grab.
1. That really happened?
There’s so much to digest on this play. We will start with the moment: Fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter of the Birmingham Bowl. South Carolina trailed 39-24 with the ball at the South Florida 9-yard line.
Bentley came under fire immediately from an outside blitz, which was picked up by Turner. Bentley rolled right, running into the back of an offensive lineman. He stepped back and tossed the ball toward the end zone, where Bryan Edwards was matched up in single coverage with South Florida cornerback Ronnie Hoggins. Hoggins dove, got a piece of the ball, but only served to knock it up in the air enough for a diving Edwards to get his arms under the ball and make the catch.
The catch stood after a review, pulling the Gamecocks right back into the game in what proved to be a thrilling Birmingham Bowl.
Honorable mention: Samuel throws a 33-yard touchdown pass to Edwards, Hayden Hurst’s one-handed touchdown catch in the Birmingham Bowl, Bentley’s touchdown pass to Edwards against UMass, Brandon McIlwain’s touchdown runs against East Carolina, Bentley escapes the pocket against UMass and throws on the run to Samuel.