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  1. USC-Vanderbilt report card: Bounce-back effort makes the grade Sept. 23, 2018 With South Carolina football’s 37-14 win against the Vanderbilt Commodores in the books, it’s time to grade the Gamecocks. Quarterbacks Was there a play where Jake Bentley underestimated a linebacker in zone’s leaping ability? Yes. But he hit 19 of 28 passes. He had 261 yards, including a set of deep strikes to Shi Smith and a dart to Bryan Edwards. Then throw in leading the offense to a banner day and running for 45 yards, you’ll take it. Grade: A- Running backs As the weeks went on, Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp went from blaming his line for a sub-par running day against Georgia to challenging his backs. They stepped up, with the trio of Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner combining for 224 yards at 6.2 per pop. The two fumbles in the rain were concerning. Grade: A- Wide receivers Shi Smith posted easily his best career day, and to the naked eye it looked as if his two biggest plays were him just throwing good moves in one-on-one coverage. Deebo Samuel got a lot of work, while Edwards had a solid game. A few backups got targets. Grade: B+ Tight ends The run blocking overall seemed good, but the pass game didn’t focus on them too much. K.C. Crosby, who left the game with an injury, and Kiel Pollard each caught first-down passes, and the ground game certainly looked well-blocked. Grade: B Offensive line The group felt challenged after Georgia. They laid waste to a Vanderbilt, plowing the way for 273 rushing yards at 5.7 per carry. Jake Bentley was hardly pressured and only sacked once. Overall a good day. Grade: A Defensive line This group caused some havoc. Javon Kinlaw had two sacks. Bryson Allen-Williams added a hurry. There were some issues against the run early, as Jamauri Wakefield got 5.1 yards per carry, but in the end the Gamecocks shut that down too. Grade: A- Linebackers There was a spate of tackling issues that led to five 10-yard runs and let Vanderbilt move the ball for stretches. There was also bad blown coverage from what looked like Sherrod Greene that set up one of the Commodore touchdowns. Grade: C- Defensive backs Facing a potential NFL quarterback, the Gamecocks forced Kyle Shurmur into a 18 for 38 day, which included a pick and 4.7 yards per attempt. There might have been a few rocky moments, but considering top cornerback Rashad Fenton missed much of the game, it was a pretty good game. Grade: A- Special teams Parker White went 3 of 3 on field goals, all inside 37 yards. He didn’t get many touchbacks, but only one Vandy drive that started with a kickoff began past the 25. Punter Joseph Charlton put two of three punts inside the 20. The return game didn’t yield much, but neither did Vandy’s. Grade: B+ Overall There were probably enough miscues and points left on the field to earn a B+ (USC could’ve probably scored 50 if it was more on point). But one also has to factor in the moment. Gamecocks fans and players had to stew on the Georgia loss for an extra week. Coming out with a big offensive day and comfortable win carried weight beyond just the result on the field. Grade: A-
  2. Scouting South Carolina’s next opponent: Kentucky Sept. 29, 2018 South Carolina (2-1 1-1 SEC) at Kentucky (4-0, 2-0) When: 7:30 p.m. Where: Kroger Field, Lexington TV: SEC Network Three storylines 1. After Georgia, Kentucky was likely the SEC game South Carolina fans had circled next on their schedule in the preseason. The Wildcats have owned the Gamecocks of late, taking the last four matchups. It’s UK’s longest winning streak over an SEC East opponent not named Vanderbilt since the 1940s. “I don’t need South Carolina to motivate me,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said in July. 2. UK’s 23-13 win over USC last year in Columbia included Deebo Samuel’s season-ending leg injury. The full-circle return comes after Samuel caught seven passes for 56 yards in the Vanderbilt win. Samuel has a somewhat subdued 145 receiving yards through three games this season. That’s good for third on the team. 3. South Carolina is seeking consecutive road wins for the first time in the Will Muschamp era. The Wildcats are 3-0 at home this year, including a statement 28-7 win over No. 14 Mississippi State on Saturday night. Who’s the second-best team in the SEC East after Georgia? This game could go a long way toward answering that question. Three Kentucky players to watch 1. Kentucky running back Benny Snell has started this season looking like the SEC’s best at his position. He’s averaging 135 yards a game after another 165 yards and four touchdowns against Mississippi State. The junior has run for 175 yards and three scores in two career games against the Gamecocks. 2. Not lost in Snell’s performance Saturday, the Wildcat defense limited a previously electric Mississippi State offense to over 380 yards and 40 points below its season averages. Linebacker Josh Allen is the unit’s ringleader. After two tackles for loss, a sack, quarterback hurry and pass breakup against the Bulldogs, the All-American candidate told reporters, “I felt like they couldn’t block me.” 3. UK quarterback Terry Wilson was one of the most coveted junior college prospects on the market this past recruiting cycle. The January enrollee won’t wow you with passing numbers (Jake Bentley has thrown for 317 more yards than Wilson in one less game), but he’s enough of a running threat to take some attention off Snell. Wilson is second in the SEC among QBs with 241 yards.
  3. Why is everyone suddenly worried about South Carolina? Sept. 21, 2018 South Carolina canceled a game last week. It did not cancel its season. Two weeks ago, the Gamecocks were being talked about, by their fans and some media, like a team that could give No. 2 Georgia a run for their money. One bad loss to the Bulldogs and one hurricane-erased game later, and now they’re going to lose to Vanderbilt? I don’t buy it. Yes, South Carolina looked bad against Georgia. Yes, the Gamecocks would have benefited in several ways from getting back on the field against Marshall last week. Yes, Vanderbilt looked good against Notre Dame. All that I get. What I don’t understand is the excessive hand-wringing suddenly surrounding South Carolina. The Gamecocks could absolutely lose to Vanderbilt, but there’s not much reason to expect that now than there was in the preseason and there weren’t many people picking that now. ESPN.com’s football power index gives the Gamecocks a 58 percent chance to win the game. South Carolina is a 2.5-point favorite in Las Vegas, but there remains an undercurrent of worry within Columbia and speculation outside of it that the Commodores are going to derail South Carolina’s season. Let’s remember, though, that this summer at SEC Media Days, South Carolina was projected to finish second in the SEC East. Vanderbilt was picked to finish sixth. That wasn’t that long ago. The Commodores look better than we thought they might, but the Gamecocks remain the better team. South Carolina must limit Kyle Shurmur’s effectiveness and establish its own running game. If it does those things, it will easily cover this spread. South Carolina 31, Vanderbilt 21
  4. Weekly radio call-in show Notes with injury report and Belk update Sept. 21, 2018 As South Carolina tries to get back on the winning side of things, the Gamecocks will do so with mostly a clean bill of health. On his weekly radio call-in show, USC coach Will Muschamp said his team will head to Nashville mostly healthy. He only listed one concrete injury, plus some players improving: ▪ DE D.J. Wonnum, who is out four a month with a ligament injury in his ankle. Muschamp said he’ll get checked out by a doctor again next week. ▪ Running back Mon Denson is feeling better and better after a hamstring sidelined him. ▪ Wide receiver Chavis Dawkins, who missed the start of the season with an ankle injury, will play. ▪ Defensive tackle Josh Belk has been set back in his conditioning by an ankle injury. His status for Saturday is uncertain. South Carolina should be in good shape considering it didn’t play last week because of Hurricane Florence canceling the Marshall game. Kickoff Saturday is 4 p.m. on SEC Network.
  5. Coming off Gamecocks’ loss, Will Muschamp made a change: He turned up the intensity Sept. 20, 2018 THE STATE South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp wasn’t pleased with a wide array of things his team did the last time it was on a football field. More than a few fans expressed displeasure at what they saw as a lack of effort, something Muschamp vehemently denied. But even with that difference of opinions, Muschamp followed with a choice that will likely leave those fans pleased. “Coach turned up the intensity at practice last week,” Gamecocks tailback Rico Dowdle said. “He said it just starts with practice, how we practice. “He thinks that has an effect on the outcome of the game.” That kicked into gear as soon as word came down the Marshall game was canceled by then-Hurricane Florence. USC got in a few off week-style practices on Thursday and Sunday. There was more work with the top units against each other. “Thursday’s practice was probably, (Muschamp) said it himself, one of the best in-season practices we’ve had since he’s been here,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “Really competitive. The guys just were just sort of really excited to get out there. We did a lot of good-on-good stuff kind of the whole practice. And really just competitive. Whoever wins the most reps has to run a gasser or whatever.” Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was asked what makes that good kind of practice to him. The answer was honest, if not a hint self-serving. “In every competition, we’re stopping the offense and making them run a gasser,” Kinlaw said. “That’s a good practice to me.” He claimed the defense was winning more often, but Bentley said at least on that Thursday, the offense won the day. Bentley said the hope is to change a mindset, from players saying they have to practice to thinking they “get” to practice. There’s also the hope it can serve as a slight reset or sorts. Although the Gamecocks were on the wrong end of a talent deficit against Georgia, they also made a wide array of mistakes that let the game get out of hand. They’re now going into a stretch against two division opponents, one they’ll have to beat to avoid an upset, the other to maintain their pursuit of at least second place in the East. Muschamp has long preached the seeds of gameday success are sown at practice. USC missed the chance to wash away the taste of Georgia against Marshall, and while the sudden chance to work on themselves was good, it didn’t quite make up for missing real action. “Practice is practice you know, and a game is a game,” Kinlaw said. “That’s how I think about it. “There ain’t nothing like a game.”
  6. It’s the position Will Muschamp works most closely with. He’s not real pleased Sept. 20, 2018 South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp broke out the phrase ‘deplorable’ to describe what he saw against Georgia. One of his safeties, the position he works the most hands on with, didn’t do his job. A freshman jumped up when he wasn’t supposed to, and a wide receiver went streaking downfield uncovered. “It’s deplorable that we line up and leave a slot (receiver) uncovered, which I don’t know that’s happened once in my coaching career,” Muschamp said. “That a middle field safety won’t tell a young freshman to cover down on the slot. That’s a huge, major issue.” The bigger problem: it’s not an isolated issue. Though two games, the play at that spot has been a problem. USC has played primarily four guys there. It’s a spot the boasts two grad transfers, a four-star recruit and one of the most veteran players on the defense. But all that hasn’t helped to this point. “I’m not real pleased with where we are,” Muschamp said. The central point has been communication. The Gamecocks rely on their safeties to be the main communicators on the team, to get folks lined up, to run the show from the back end. South Carolina’s defense had more than a few busts in both of the first two games. No one from the group of J.T. Ibe, Steven Montac, Nick Harvey and Jamyest Williams has yet grabbed control of the position. The group has almost no disruptive plays (forced fumble, pass defended, sack, tackle for loss), the only one being a single assisted tackle behind the line. Overall, the defense has a lot more time to grow, nine or 10 games starting with a rough SEC gauntlet. But this problem is one the staff saw coming and one that trickles down. It’s one that can probably be most easily be shored up, but that fact in itself seemed to have Will Muschamp the most frustrated. “Communication is a major issue for us and has been one through camp and now into our first two ballgames,” Muschamp said. “If we do that better, then you put yourself in a position to tackle better, which the tackling has not been awful, but we need to tackle better and need to be more productive overall.”
  7. How USC’s last trip to Vanderbilt ‘jump started’ Muschamp’s tenure with Gamecocks Sept. 20, 2018 THE STATE Southeastern Conference schools never want their football teams in the position of being judged based on what happens against Vanderbilt, but that’s where South Carolina found itself on Sept. 1, 2016. The Gamecocks were coming off a 3-9 season and had just hired Will Muschamp as their head coach, a decision that was widely questioned not just from the outside but from within the program’s fan base as well. “You were hearing a lot from Gamecock fans that people were nervous, didn’t know if he was the right fit,” said Elliott Fry, the former South Carolina kicker who would prove so important on that September night. Muschamp had been fired two years prior after four years at Florida and he would start his Gamecocks career on the road against an SEC opponent with a team that had ended the previous season with five straight losses, including one to The Citadel. The 3-9 season had followed a 7-6 season that had followed an 11-2 season. South Carolina players, frankly, were wondering the same thing South Carolina fans were wondering. “It just progressively got worse,” Fry said. “I remember thinking every year, ‘It can’t get any worse,’ and it just kept gradually getting worse.” The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) head back to Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday for the first time since that 2016 game. On their last trip, Vanderbilt was heading into head coach Derek Mason’s third year and would go on to beat Georgia and Tennessee that season. The game started exactly the way Gamecocks fans had feared. South Carolina trailed 10-0 at halftime. It had 63 yards at the time. Its first eight offensive possessions ended with a punt or a fumble. True freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain played. Sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel fumbled away the Commodores’ first punt of the game. “We didn’t start out really good,” Muschamp remembered this week. Things began to turn around in the second half, though. Fry hit a 48-yard field goal in third quarter and Samuel redeemed himself with an 8-yard touchdown run with 7:30 left in the game to tie the score at 10-10. After Samuel’s touchdown, Vanderbilt drove 49 yards in seven plays, but place-kicker Tommy Openshaw missed a 45-yard attempt that would have given the Commodores the lead.
  8. He overcame an early setback. The Gamecocks will rely on him in coming weeks Sept. 20, 2018 THE STATE At year’s start, it’s not likely many would’ve said South Carolina football would go into a big two-game stretch likely relying on Daniel Fennell. Funny how things work out. Fennell carved out a particular role on the field, but more notable a role off it. He can play three spots, backs up one or two, and generally finds his way onto the field. He had a big sack against Georgia, and Will Muschamp credited him as playing well. But it goes a little beyond that. “He is a very steady player (and) continues to improve every year since we’ve been here,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very dependable player. You know what you’re going to get out of Danny all the time. He’s going to give great effort. You’ll get mental and physical toughness in how he approaches the game.” And he’ll likely be needed in the next few games. The Gamecocks will face a Vanderbilt team that likes to line up either with two tight ends or two running backs much of the time and then a Kentucky squad built around downhill running. That means South Carolina playing three linebackers more often, and with USC’s current roster situation, that’s an issue. So Fennell steps in. “He’s our starter at Sam linebacker right now with Dennis (Wonnum) going out,” Muschamp said. “Bryson (Allen-Williams) being basically the primary buck for us right now.” Usually against run-heavy squads, it’s Wonnum and Allen-Williams as thick bodies, setting the edges against the run. Now it will be Fennell and Allen-Williams holding it down. But one teammate said, losing Wonnum doesn’t affect Fennell that much. “He’s always going to do him,” defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw said. “Regardless if DJ is there or not. He’s going to do what he’s got to do.” Fennell has earned this sort of role despite having come overcome an early-career setback. In his redshirt freshman season, he was named an early No. 1 player at the Buck spot. By the time the season started, he’d fallen behind Darius English. Then Wonnum came on, and he hardly played on defense. But he stayed with it, found his spot and put himself in position to help the Gamecocks when they need it. “I’ve been extremely proud of him right now with what he’s able to do for us,” Muschamp said.
  9. Gamecocks favored over Vanderbilt but by historically low number Sept. 20, 2018 South Carolina is a 2.5-point favorite over Vanderbilt for Saturday’s game in Nashville, Tenn. The Gamecocks have won nine in a row over the Commodores and have been favored in every game during that streak. They are just 4-4-1 against the spread during the streak, and this year’s line is the second-smallest in this series since at least 1998 (the last year for which reliable and complete data is available). We talked to ESPN.com gambling writer David Purdum about what all this means. What kind of movement have you seen on this line? It opened as high as three but started ticking back down almost everywhere. It got down to as low as 1.5 and ticked back up to where it’s sitting now. The standard home field advantage (being three points) is kind of a myth. I guess it would be lazy odds making. The guys that really take is seriously and really break it down, they will tell you that the only true home field advantage is places like Wyoming where there’s altitude. If you go into Death Valley on Saturday night, that would be some, too, obviously. They just don’t put much stock in that. I would not think that there’s much home field advantage at Vanderbilt. So this line means that the Gamecocks are still ahead of Vanderbilt in the odds makers’ power rankings, right? They are favored on the road, which definitely indicates that the powers rankings in Las Vegas have South Carolina higher than Vanderbilt. I bet the gap has narrowed now, but I would I think South Carolina still is a tier or two above. When South Carolina got blown out, it kind of deflated some of the expectations for them, and I think also Vanderbilt was impressive in the second half against Notre Dame. I definitely think there is some respect for Vanderbilt there. South Carolina is a 1,000-to-1 to win the national title. Could a Gamecocks fan go to Las Vegas and bet $1 on that just for fun? Five dollars typically is your minimum wager over the counter at Las Vegas. Some of the new sports books that you see popping up are taking very small dollar bets. That’s going to be one of the interesting trends as we get these new operators. But the futures bets are not good odds for the bettors, are they? The house edge is pretty significant. The house edge that is built into the futures market is 20 to 30 percent, whereas your house edge in straight, single-game wagers is 10 percent. Futures bets are very lucrative for the sports book. They almost always put themselves in position by managing it where they almost win on every team.
  10. Tanner says looking at 2 or 3 schools about possible 12th football game Sept. 19, 2018 South Carolina intends to play a 12th game this season, Athletics Director Ray Tanner says. If that ends up being a regular season game, the goal is the play the contest at home. South Carolina lost its Sept. 15 regular season game against Marshall on because of Hurricane Florence. The Gamecocks (1-1) travel to Vanderbilt this week. “As we sit here today, my interest is playing at Williams-Brice,” Tanner said. “I’ll exhaust all resources to play another home game in Columbia.” The two date options are Oct. 20 (South Carolina’s open week) and Dec. 1, which also happens to be the day of the SEC championship game in Atlanta. “If we’re in Atlanta on Dec. 1 and things were to fall just right in the regular season, that will be our 12th game,” Tanner said. Tanner said USC is “having conversations” with “two or three” schools right now about a possible game. He did not identify the schools but did say he talked with Marshall Athletics Director Mike Hamrick as recently as Tuesday. “We haven’t ruled out that [Marshall] could be a possibility,” Tanner said. “We’ll continue having dialogue with Marshall.” There is not a public timetable to make any sort of announcement. “My intention is that we wouldn’t announce anything until we have a game scheduled. We’re not going to announce a contingency plan,” Tanner said. “At some point we will alert our fan base and the public if we’re going to play a 12th regular season game. “There are a lot of balls in the air. We’re going to attempt to play a 12th game, if possible. It’s not an easy process.” Muschamp said publicly he’d prefer not to play during the open week Oct. 20, which would involve playing 10 straight weeks without a break.
  11. South Carolina is struggling at safety. So where is Jaylin Dickerson? Sept. 19, 2018 THE STATE Early in August of 2017, one might have thought Jaylin Dickerson was destined to start at safety for South Carolina’s football team with the way the coaches spoke about him. More than a year later, he’s hardly in the rotation at what might be the position struggling the most on the Gamecocks’ roster. So what happened? “He missed about 10 days of camp with a hamstring,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “And when a young player misses one day of camp, it’s an issue. When you miss eight or 10 days, it’s a major issue. And it’s very hard for a young player to catch up. Same with R.J. Roderick. He missed six or eight days with a different issue as far as illness and things are concerned. When a young player misses that much camp, it’s really, really hard to catch them up. We’re trying to.” With Dickerson, the issue goes back a little farther than that. What prevented him from making good on that 2017 promise was a shoulder injury that ended his season before it started and forced him to redshirt. He was limited all spring, and then he missed time in August. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound safety got time at the end of the team’s blowout win against Coastal Carolina, but was limited to special teams against Georgia. Muschamp explained once camp ends, there’s another barrier to a player getting back in the rotation. “Right now, we’re not into teaching middle-field concepts,” Muschamp said. “We’re into teaching game plans. And it’s very difficult right now to get those guys ready when they miss that much time.” In short, there’s not much time for players to catch up on fundamentals this time of year. Muschamp spoke brusquely of the safety position, where the play hasn’t been up to his standards in the first two weeks. USC is primarily playing J.T. Ibe and Steven Montac as starters, with Jamyest Williams and Nick Harvey as the top reserves. Roderick is still adapting to safety after playing quarterback most of his high school career. He’s been used mostly on special teams. “They’re both really good, young, talented players and they’re going to be good players,” Muschamp said. “But when you miss that much time, especially for a young player that’s not played on Saturday, it’s very difficult to catch up. We’re doing the best we can and they’re doing the best they can.”
  12. Will Muschamp Weekly News Conference With Videos Coach & Selected Players Plus Notes & Quotes Sept. 18, 2018 Will Muschamp Weekly News Conference With Videos Coach & Selected Players Plus Notes & Quotes (MORE)
  13. One challenge South Carolina has in Vanderbilt this week: ‘They’re always chippy’ Sept. 18, 2018 When the South Carolina football team finally returns to the field this week after a hurricane-induced bye week, the players are looking for a bounce-back moment for an offense that had a rough go against Georgia. Standing in the way is a Vanderbilt defense with a well-defined personality. “They’re always chippy,” wide receiver Bryan Edwards said. “They play hard. They’ve got good motors. They’ve got talent. You’ve got to be ready to play honestly. You’ve got to be ready for a dog fight.” His first taste of college football came against the Commodores in the 2016 opener. He put up more than 100 yards, but the game was a grind-it-out affair throughout. Thus far this season, Vandy has allowed only 13 points per game and 4.4 yards per play, a figure that ranks 18th in the country. That’s despite playing a Notre Dame team that possesses a good deal of talent. Tailback Rico Dowdle hasn’t ever gone against Vanderbilt, but he has a strong impression of the scheme. “I think they run an NFL-based defense,” Dowdle said. The unit is based in a 3-4 and despite playing hard, has struggled through SEC play in recent seasons. After allowing only 24 points per game in Derek Mason’s first season, the figure jumped to 31.3 last year. But despite that, the Gamecocks see a style that won’t make things easy. “I think it all stems from coach Mason,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “Just a very intense guy, physical guy. They’re going to take it to you. You’ve really got to be physical all game long. They’re not going to have any quit in them. Really just a physical team that’s going to come hit you as hard as they can. “The players definitely reflect him as a coach.”
  14. Here’s why Will Muschamp is happy Jamyest Williams is ‘upset’ Sept. 18, 2018 One year after being the star of South Carolina’s signing class and a true freshman starter, Jamyest Williams is a Gamecocks backup now and he’s not happy about it. Williams, a 5-foot-8 sophomore defensive back, started six games last year at the nickel position, but this year lost that job to true freshman Jaycee Horn. Williams now serves as one of the Gamecocks top backups at nickel and safety. He also has played cornerback. “He’s upset about it, and I’m glad he is because that shows he’s a competitor,” head coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. “You don’t want a guy who’s happy he’s not starting.” Williams has six tackles and no pass breakups so far this season. He has seen extensive action in both games. The Gamecocks (1-1) take on Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. “He’s played as much or more as anybody back there,” Muschamp said. Williams was not made available for media interviews Tuesday. Williams was a 2017 SEC All-Freshman selection after having 38 tackles and two interceptions.
  15. Vanderbilt might have pushed Notre Dame, but Gamecocks still favored on the road Sept. 17, 2018 Recent impressions don’t mean much when it comes to Las Vegas’ lines and South Carolina football this week. The Gamecocks are coming off a surprise bye week because of Hurricane Florence and a blowout home loss to Georgia. The Vanderbilt team they’ll visit Saturday is 2-1 and gave Notre Dame a tough game in South Bend, Indiana. South Carolina is still a road favorite. The Gamecocks opened as a 2 1/2 -point favorite against the Commodores in Nashville. USC covered a 31-point line in its season opener against Coastal but didn’t as an underdog to Georgia. By the usual logic of lines and home-field advantage, that means USC would be a 5 1/2-point favorite on a neutral field and an 8 1/2-point favorite at home. USC has won nine in a row against Vandy, the past three by less than 10 points. The Gamecocks are 5-0 against the spread in their last five road games.
  16. Where South Carolina’s young, 4-star linemen are after the first taste of top competition Sept. 17, 2018 In some ways, it’s not an assignment that’s 100 percent fair. South Carolina’s football coaches have regularly said, life gets harder for young players the closer they are to the ball. Gamecocks freshmen defensive tackles Kingsley Enagbare, Josh Belk and Rick Sandidge play right over the ball, so they’ve got the steepest curve, right in the middle of a mosh pit of contact and leverage. Oh, and in their second college game, they matched up with one of the best offensive lines in the sport, which included a 340-pound guard. So what did Will Muschamp see from the group after Georgia? “All of them played in the first half, I think Josh played obviously during the second,” Muschamp said on his weekly call-in show. “We’ve got to continue to have those guys come on for us, that’s where we are. They’re extremely talented football players, but there is a learning curve in our league on the line of scrimmage.” That trio is battling with junior college transfer Jabari Ellis for snaps behind the team’s more veteran group of Javon Kinlaw, Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas. With D.J. Wonnum missing the next few weeks, Thomas could find himself contributing more at end. Each of the three young defensive linemen is working his way through a transition of sorts while learning on the job. Enagbare was an end in high school and bulked up the past year or so. Sandidge didn’t have the advantage of enrolling early, and at times during practice seemed to be working his way through the natural learning curve. Belk is still trying to get his weight down after transferring from Clemson and wasn’t even cleared to play until a few days before USC’s opener. With that in mind, Muschamp is keeping the long view. “We’re going to be fine,” Muschamp said. “We’ve just got to continue to bring these guys along.”
  17. Will Muschamp’s prescription for run-game woes: ‘Our backs have got to break a tackle’ Sept. 17, 2018 THE STATE The first instinct for many is to blame the offensive line, and with South Carolina’s football team, that’s understandable. The Gamecocks front has had its issues across the past three seasons. The loss to Georgia, which came before the storm-induced bye week the team is still waiting through, featured South Carolina’s offense sputtering. Coach Will Muschamp even said his team got flat-out whipped. But when he went on his weekly call-in show, he sounded more satisfied with the group, especially in keeping quarterback Jake Bentley clean. “We had one sack, and that was on a coverage sack where Jake had to scramble because they had good coverage down the field,” Muschamp said. “I thought we got a hat on a hat in protection. I thought we protected Jake extremely well.” That makes some sense. All told, on 35 drop backs with the game somewhat in doubt, the Bulldogs only managed six true pressures and four other plays where they might’ve bothered Bentley a little. But then there’s the running game, where USC got 3.6 yards a carry. After his harsh words about the front, by week’s end, he was laying the blame in a slightly different spot. “In a lot of situations, got a hat on a hat in the run game,” Muschamp said. “Our backs have got to break a tackle. That’s what their guys did. There’s some things that we were pleased with obviously. We’re right at 200 yards at halftime against a really good defense.” Muschamp pointed to the series of swings that took the game from a seven-point affair to 31 in a matter of 13 or so minutes. After a late drop and bad punt opened the door for a UGA field goal to close the half, the defense gave up three touchdown drives of 75 or more yards to start the second half (the Bulldogs averaged 11.2 yards per play in that stretch). The offense didn’t help with a pair of three and outs, one where a third-down drop cost USC a possession and another where the Gamecocks couldn’t run for 1 yard on third down. His team had hung close with the Bulldogs the previous two years, but at no point had the defense given up a burst like that. “That to me, as much as anything, cost us the football game,” Muschamp said.
  18. How will South Carolina’s unexpected bye week affect season? Sept. 17, 2018 South Carolina got an unexpected open date last week thanks to Hurricane Florence. Whether the Gamecocks appreciate the time off will depend on how they play Saturday against Vanderbilt. While South Carolina was taking Saturday off, the Commodores were putting a scare into No. 8 Notre Dame. Vanderbilt outgained the Irish 420 yards to 380 yards in a 22-17 loss that made it look like the SEC East might have another surprise team in it. Vanderbilt (2-1) will be looking to snap a nine-game losing streak to South Carolina. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, will just be looking to get their feet under them. The last time South Carolina took the field they were thumped 41-17 by No. 2 Georgia, and its players have been eager to get back on the field ever since. Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said his team has a very good practice Thursday morning after learning of the Marshall game’s cancellation due to then-Hurricane Florence. South Carolina was scheduled to practice again Sunday night to begin their normal game week preparation. The last time the Gamecocks had an open week during September was in 2001 when Sept. 15 games around the country were canceled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. South Carolina would have benefited from one more warmup game prior to jumping into seven consecutive SEC games. We’ve yet to see exactly who the Gamecocks are this year. They beat an overmatched Coastal Carolina team 49-15 in Week 1 and then were overmatched by the Bulldogs in Week 2. How good is South Carolina? We still don’t know. How good are the Commodores? Better than we thought based on last week’s game against Notre Dame.
  19. Can South Carolina defense overcome the big issue Georgia exposed? Sept. 17, 2018 Heading into the Georgia game, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was concerned about how his defensive line would hold up against the Bulldogs’ mammoth offensive line. It turned out to be a valid concern. Georgia rushed for 271 yards, gained 473 overall and scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to put away a 41-17 victory. The Bulldogs are gone, but the issue of South Carolina’s defensive line play remains. The loss of starting defensive end D.J. Wonnum for a month because of an ankle injury only exacerbates them. Asked if he was concerned about the overall bulk of his defensive line without the 270-pound Wonnum in the rotation, replied, “Well, yes.” The first impact of Wonnum’s loss is that it will increase the number of snaps played by Bryson Allen-Williams at the Buck end position. Allen-Williams is one of South Carolina’s best defenders, but he’s only 230 pounds. Daniel Fennell (246 pounds) and Brad Johnson (250 pounds) also will get more playing at the Buck position. On the opposite side of the line at defensive end, the Gamecocks are expected to start 245-pound Aaron Sterling with 270-pound Shameik Blackshear as the top backup. Starting defensive tackle Keir Thomas (276 pounds) also could be moved outside but that creates depth issues at defensive tackle, where South Carolina already is using three true freshmen in the rotation. The specific problem South Carolina faced against Georgia and figures to face against other teams on the schedule due to a lack of size as much as anything else is an inability to consistently “set the edge.” That simply means it’s the responsibility of the outside defender (usually a defensive end, an outside linebacker or sometimes a defensive back in the box) to make sure the ball carrier doesn’t get outside of him. The edge player (or force player) is tasked with making the tackle or forcing the ball carrier back toward the middle of the defense. “Obviously, Georgia attacked us on the edges,” Muschamp said. “That was something you saw on the first series and realized what was going to happen, so we’ve got to do a better job of holding the point on the edges. We’ve looked at some different lineups that we can possibly look at as far as setting better edges of our defense.” The Gamecocks see the field next when they travel to Vanderbilt on Sept. 22. Their game against Marshall set for this weekend was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. Weakside linebacker Sherrod Greene said he and his teammates have to be “more disciplined” with their edge responsibilities. “Be more patient, and let the plays come to us. We can’t just force anything,” he said. “We have to make our plays that are put in position for us. It’s just discipline at all.” South Carolina’s defenders are coached to keep their outside arm free of the defender when setting the edge, Greene said. “If it bounces out, you are going to make the play because you have to stay outside,” he said. That’s what Muschamp is hoping his players can do at least.
  20. Gamecocks look to get back to the regular schedule Sept. 16, 2018 The unexpected cancellation of Saturday’s game against Marshall left South Carolina with a quandary: The Gamecocks got a surprise bye week to heal injuries, but they also had to deal with the sting of the Georgia loss for another week. Coach Will Muschamp remains confident and upbeat, even to the point of not yet rescheduling the Marshall game because of the possibility — or probability depending on your viewpoint — of playing in Atlanta on Dec. 1. “I don’t know that (playing a 12th game) matters,” he said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.” As the Columbia region tries to return to normal this week following Hurricane Florence, the campus will follow suit, and classes are expected to resume on Monday. The Gamecocks had already discussed alternative practice plans if the area was without power into the coming week. Muschamp said Thursday on his radio show that the decision to cancel the game was “absolutely the right call.” “I have been through several hurricanes. It’s nothing to play with,” Muschamp said Thursday night on the “Carolina Calls” show, according to The State. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people on the coast right now.” South Carolina has a bye on Oct. 20 — between Texas A&M and Tennessee — but Muschamp did not think playing 10 straight games was wise for the players. The challenges with the scheduling logistics are that Williams-Brice Stadium is scheduled to host high school state championship games Dec. 1. But if those could be moved, the Gamecocks could play Marshall if the Thundering Herd does not make the Conference USA title game. Other wild card options include Nebraska and Akron, who had their season opener canceled because of weather. While the Gamecocks could want to recoup the seven-figure loss in revenue from the Marshall cancellation, bowl eligibility could be the more logical reason to add the canceled game back to the schedule. The extended time off gave some fans time to vent frustrations following the lopsided Georgia loss. But SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy was one person who came to Muschamp’s defense. Muschamp’s Gamecocks have exceeded expectations in back-to-back seasons, with six wins and then nine wins. “If you think that Will Muschamp should be released and relieved of his duties after what he’s done with an absolutely abysmal roster the last two years, it’s remarkable,” McElroy said. “Absolutely remarkable to me. Like, that is the most short-sighted thing I have ever heard on this program.” Muschamp, meanwhile, cleared up a suggestion by T.J. Brunson that the Gamecocks didn’t keep playing hard late in the game. He maintained that the Gamecocks played hard, but didn’t respond well in the second half when they allowed three straight touchdowns. South Carolina should feel confident for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network), riding a nine-game winning streak in the series. But the Gamecocks still had Georgia on last year’s schedule after they played Vanderbilt, meaning the SEC East title was still possible. The Commodores also lost two key defenders in the game to targeting calls. But Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur passed for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns. Vanderbilt is coming off of a near-upset at Notre Dame, but its defense looked shoddy, especially early in the game. Still, South Carolina’s defense will be tested against Shurmur and Co., especially without injured DL D.J. Wonnum. “It will increase Bryson (Allen-Williams’) percentage of playing the buck position,” Muschamp said last week. “Then you’ve got Aaron (Sterling) and Shameik (Blackshear) at the end position. Keir Thomas can go outside and play the end. Daniel Fennell can play the end. Then it increases Danny’s and Brad (Johnson’s) reps at the buck.” The other questions center on the offense and play-calling of offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon, who admitted he was too pass-heavy in the Georgia loss. The Gamecocks must decide how much they will stick with their new up-tempo philosophy, and how much to return to the basics. Or what works best against Vanderbilt. “You can’t start shouldering blame on everything.’ You can’t do that as a coordinator,” Muschamp said. “It’s a team game, and we’ve got to play better on the defensive side of the ball. Now, we need to convert third and 2 and third and 1 on the first two drives of the second half. Those were productive conversations, and we need to get better. That’s on me.” With an extra week off the field, questions remain. The next round of answers, though, comes this week. SDS
  21. Scouting South Carolina’s next opponent: Vanderbilt Sept. 16, 2018 South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (2-1, 0-0) When: 4 p.m. Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville TV: SEC Network Three storylines 1. Under Coach Will Muschamp, South Carolina is 2-0 following a bye week, including a win over Vanderbilt last season. Of course, this latest open date wasn’t part of the plan, but Hurricane Florence washed out the Gamecocks’ Sept. 15 game with Marshall. Can the Gamecocks remain sharp in a crucial SEC East matchup? 2. Week 1 was a win over a team pegged to finish in the Sun Belt cellar. Week 2 was a lossto a team with eyes toward a return trip to the College Football Playoff. Games three and four of USC’s football season might give us a better feel for where these Gamecocks stand. After Vandy, Carolina heads to Kentucky. USC has yet to win consecutive road games in the Muschamp era. 3. After a 3-0 start last season, Vandy lost by 59 points to Alabama in Week 4, bringing the Commodores back down to Earth and foreshadowing their 1-7 SEC record. Vandy started this year 2-0 before playing a competitive four quarters in a narrow loss at No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday. Is this Coach Derek Mason’s best team in his five years in Nashville? Or can USC bring the ‘Dores back down to Earth again? Three Vanderbilt players to watch 1. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur produced modest numbers (428 yards, four touchdowns) during Vandy’s 2-0 start, but it all came without a turnover. Faced with his biggest challenge of the season, Shurmur’s steady play continued against Notre Dame (26 of 43, 326 yards, TD, INT). The four-year starter is as experienced as any QB in the SEC. 2. Shurmur’s favorite target is Kalija Lipscomb. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior leads the SEC with 25 recepetions, including an 11-grab, 89-yard performance against the Fighting Irish. Carolina fans might recall Lipscomb going for seven catches, 128 yards and a score against the Gamecocks last season. 3. Vandy linebacker Charles Wright was ejected for targeting Jake Bentley in last season’s game. The SEC’s co-leader in sacks through the 2017 regular season is still looking for his first sack in ‘18. The Commodore defense is allowing just 12.7 points per game.
  22. Coach Boom wanter you to know this: The effort was there against Georgia Sept. 14, 2018 One didn’t have to do too much reading between the lines of what South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson said. His exact words centered around some players on South Carolina’s defense not understanding the four-quarter nature of the college game in a loss to Georgia. He was asked directly if he thought some teammates felt beaten in the second half. “I think so,” Brunson said. “During the second half, a lot of guys just didn’t understand the grind of the game.” It’s a harsh criticism from a player the coaches count on as a voice of South Carolina’s defense. A few days later, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp wanted to clear things up. Although the outcome wasn’t at all what the staff wanted, the effort was certainly there. “I don’t think we need to confuse not playing well and not trying,” Muschamp said. “We tried. Our guys played hard.”. “Our guys fought their butts off in the first half to put themselves in a position. We didn’t come out the second half and we got blocked and didn’t respond well defensively.” He focused on communication issues as a culprit for the defense. The Gamecocks opened the second half by allowing three touchdowns on three possessions. That was an area Muschamp seemed particularly bothered by, especially in light of a good deal of focus on the offense. The previous two Georgia games were much closer, but that was because the defense held up better (allowing 24 and 28 points). And while the Georgia game ranks up there among the three worst defensive performances statistically in his tenure, the effort and fight was not the cause. “Let’s not confuse not playing well with not playing hard,” Muschamp said. “Our guys played hard in the game. We didn’t get the results that we wanted.”
  23. Report: USC-Marshall game status in the air as discussions continue, Florence looms Sept. 12, 2018 It remains to be determined as to if South Carolina plays a football game Saturday. The Gamecocks, as of Wednesday, are still scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff with Marshall at Williams-Brice Stadium. With the increasing threat of Hurricane Florence, however, the game’s status is being discussed. Grant Traylor, who covers Marshall for The (Huntington, W.Va.) Herald Dispatch, reported Wednesday that USC athletic director Ray Tanner was scheduled to meet with officials Wednesday afternoon. The meeting, Traylor reported, “could decide the contest’s status.” “While a decision may come on Wednesday, it is not expected any later than early Thursday, given that Marshall is scheduled to travel to Columbia, S.C., on Friday,” the report said. Tanner and Marshall AD Mike Hamrick spoke Wednesday morning, and are scheduled to speak again Wednesday afternoon. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, speaking on the SEC teleconference around 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, said he hadn’t heard of any schedule changes. “Obviously, there are some weather issues out there,” Muschamp said. “Our campus and our state are handling that. Right now we’re on go for Saturday night at 7:30. I haven’t had any conversations with (athletics director Ray) Tanner or (USC president Harris) Pastides about anything else.” A number of area games have been canceled or altered due to the storm, including West Virginia-N.C. State (canceled), Central Florida-North Carolina (canceled) and Ohio-Virginia (moved from Charlottesville to Nashville).
  24. Will Muschamp’s latest on South Carolina’s plans for Hurricane Florence Sept. 12, 2018 South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp is like everyone else. He doesn’t know at the moment how or if Hurricane Florence is going to affect the Gamecocks’ scheduled game against Marshall on Saturday night. “Obviously, there are some weather issues out there,” Muschamp said Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. during the SEC’s regularly scheduled teleconference. “Our campus and our state are handling that. Right now we’re on go for Saturday night at 7:30. I haven’t had any conversations with (athletics director Ray) Tanner or (USC president Harris) Pastides about anything else.” South Carolina (1-1) is scheduled to play the Thundering Herd (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. Forecasts released early Wednesday predicted a slight southern shift in Hurricane Florence’s path, increasing the chances that the Midlands will be impacted. South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner and Marshall athletics director Mike Hamrick have been in contact throughout the week and were scheduled to speak again Wednesday. The Thundering Herd is set to receive a $1.3 million check from South Carolina for playing the game. Gamecocks athletic administration officials had not made any public statements about the game plans as of noon Wednesday. Pastides announced via Twitter on Wednesday morning that the university had canceled classes at least through Saturday.
  25. MARSHALL FROM THE OTHER SIDE: ‘It’s a loud venue, fun venue." Sept. 12, 2018 Marshall University Football, Doc Holliday on South Carolina Will Muschamp will be the third South Carolina football coach Doc Holliday has faced in Williams-Brice Stadium. Marshall’s veteran leader has been in this business since he was a graduate assistant at West Virginia in 1979. He was in charge of the Mountaineer receivers in 1990 when the Sparky Woods-led Gamecocks beat WVU, 29-10, in Columbia. Twenty-five years later, Holliday was on Florida’s staff when the Steve Spurrier-led Gamecocks beat the Gators, 30-22, at WBS. The same venue hosted the same coaches in 2007 when Tim Tebow and Florida topped Carolina, 51-31. In other words, Holliday has a good feel for what the Thundering Herd is getting into Saturday. “I remember they weren’t winning that many games down there for a period of time and they still sold out every game,” Holliday recalled Tuesday during a news conference in Huntington, West Virginia. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in there – I was there once with Florida and a couple times prior to that – it didn’t matter if they were 0-8 or 9-5, they showed up. “And it’s a loud venue, it’s a fun venue.” The Herd (2-0) and Gamecocks (1-1) are scheduled for a 7:30 kickoff Saturday evening. The visit is MU’s first to an SEC stadium under Holliday. Marshall trips to Power 5 venues over Holliday’s nine years include Ohio State (2010), West Virginia (2011-12), Louisville (2011), Purdue (2012), Virginia Tech (2013), Pittsburgh (2016) and N.C. State (2017). The Herd went 1-7 in those games, with the lone victory coming over the Teddy Bridgewater-led Cardinals. “Our kids enjoy those venues,” Holliday said. “And you should. I tell them from the time they’re just little kids, they dream about playing in venues like that on a national state, on national TV or whatever. That’s just an opportunity that they’re going to have and they’re excited about that.” MU’s been on the road once in 2018, coming away with a 35-28 win before 15,827 spectators at Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 1. It hosts N.C. State next week. Here are some more notable quotes from Marshall’s coach ahead of Saturday’s clash: “(Jake) Bentley, their quarterback, is a three-year starter. He’s tremendous. (Deebo) Samuel, some people think he’s one of the top receivers in the league. They got a good player at about every position.” – Holliday on USC’s roster “You watch that Georgia team, nobody runs the ball against Georgia. South Carolina was a little different in that game. They threw it 40-some times. They had almost 40-plus plays in the first half against Georgia, which is a little unusual. And they tried with some empty stuff, came out and did some things a little bit different. They threw it around a little bit.” – Holliday on USC’s offensive performance, which included just 54 rushing yards, in the 41-17 loss to Georgia “If you’re in the SEC and you’re playing the Alabamas, the Auburns and all those people in that league, you better have a good player in every position or you’ll get exposed. And they do. … Will’s done a great job there. He’s probably ahead of schedule of where he thought he would be at this point, winning nine games a year ago. He’s done a great job there. He’s got good players and they’re well-coached.”– Holliday on USC’s progress under Muschamp

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