Despite its issues, South Carolina can breath a little easier following Saturday’s win against UCF.
The secondary had its shaky moments, the rushing attack looked slower without top tailback Brandon Wilds and a special-teams gaffe almost saddled the Gamecocks with their third straight loss. Luckily for the fans, coach Steve Spurrier’s squad still pulled out a 31-14 victory behind a handful of good performances that it can build on in the coming weeks.
Here are three major takeaways from the win at Williams-Brice Stadium:
Is that a dynamic quarterback I see?
Expectations had to be tempered regarding South Carolina quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, who made the first start of his college career. But the true freshman overcame a shaky first half and put together an impressive second.
Combine the two and his final line was 12-of-22 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns, plus 123 yards on 18 carries. Nunez nearly threw an interception on his first attempt and looked somewhat limited in the pocket, but the offense took on a completely different element when he had the ball in space. He even threw a key block on the perimeter that helped secure Pharoh Cooper’s go-ahead rushing touchdown in the third quarter.
As long as Spurrier doesn’t pull the plug on his electric playmaker for another quarterback too quickly, the Head Ball Coach can still cobble together an effective offense — especially if Wilds can return sooner than later.
The defense isn’t laying down
It bears reminding that through four games, UCF still ranks last among 128 FBS teams in scoring and total offense by a sizable margin. Knowing that caveat, let the record still show that South Carolina’s defense looked much improved over the one that allowed UGA quarterback Greyson Lambert to set the NCAA completion percentage record last weekend. Fans can credit a couple of lineup changes made earlier in the week.
Perhaps chief among those was moving Skai Moore to weakside linebacker, which opened up a spot for T.J. Holloman in the middle (Spurrier called what looked like his initial stance on this move a misunderstanding). Holloman came away with two interceptions, recorded six tackles and proved a major force in the Gamecocks’ blanking UCF in the second half. And while Moore didn’t fill up the stat sheet, he did fill the role of locker-room motivator. As Spurrier said himself afterward: “We have such a passive group, it was good to see some guys yelling and ticked off a little bit.”
All is not lost
That’s more than some were saying after South Carolina started the season 1-2. Moving forward, this team still has some serious identity questions to answer, especially in the defensive backfield after UCF quarterback Bo Schneider looked crisp and comfortable on Saturday — at least in the first half.
The Gamecocks got a great chance to regain their footing and seized it. They could easily continue on that track against an underwhelming Missouri squad this coming week.