Gamecocks youth movement brought on by injuries
Nov. 07, 2019, | GCF Staff Report
When Jakai Moore entered the starting lineup on Saturday night for Carolina it was one thing. The fact redshirt freshman Deshaun Fenwick got 18 carries while true freshman Kevin Harris got 10 was another. The Gamecocks have stumbled lately either by injury, necessity and whatever else into a youth movement. After Saturday’s win against Vanderbilt, the kids are looking all right. All told, the Gamecocks started only four freshmen, three true. They played at least 9 more, including three in the defensive backfield, four in the offensive backfield, plus a few more.
Carolina's No. 2 receiver on the night was true freshman Xavier Legette. The top rusher Fenwick a redshirt freshman, and No. 3 rusher Harris another true freshman. Also two freshmen started up front on offense. True freshman Ryan Hilinski has been carrying the load at quarterback all season despite a barrage of hits (redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner helped on that front Saturday), while classmate Jammie Robinson has played as the team’s top nickel all season.
The staff has needed all of them to step in at some point or another this season.
“With the at-bats, you continue to improve,” Will Muschamp said, referencing Hilinski. “Jakai Moore and Jalyen (Nichols) both have started at tackle for us. Xavier Legette was a key contributor for us at the receiver position. Jammie Robinson’s been a very dependable guy for us. Zacch Pickens has played well for us up front. “We really like the guys we recruited, and we play more freshman than anybody the country, I think, in four years, and started more than anybody in four years. So we’re willing to play guys that are good enough to play. Get on the field and you can produce for us, you play.”
Moore and Legette were the the latest freshmen asked to do more. Moore is a former three-star recruit was ranked just outside of the top 500 players in his class. He had to replace Nichols, another true freshman who was called upon to play for starter Dylan Wonnum at right tackle. Legette has been in the rotation but had to play more with Shi Smith sidelined by a hamstring issue. Robinson was one of the few players who was called upon for a big role early. He was slotted in as a top-6 defensive back and through some attrition has maintained that. He posted five tackles Saturday.
Muschamp said. “We ask a lot of our nickel. The guy is playing good football for us this year, and continues to improve week-in, week-out and it’s very difficult.” The Gamecocks have a group of 21 seniors. A total of 13 have contributed on offense or defense when healthy, with six more at least chipping in something on special teams. That’s a good bit to replace, but with injuries and other factors, those young players are starting to step up, en masse. Muschamp said Sunday night tight ends KeShawn Toney and Traevon Kenion might have to step up with Nick Muse sidelined.
Several of the veteran linebackers including Ernest Jones, who almost redshirted before playing in the bowl last year — enjoyed seeing some of those younger guys coming on. Jones said. “That’s always nice to see when those guys that you go against every day and you give them the best look that they can get, and you hit him as hard as they can and you continue to get them better each and every day to see them go out there and do what they did. It was good to watch. It was phenomenal to see.”
What all the freshmen did against Vanderbilt:
▪ QB Ryan Hilinski — 24-31 passing for 235 yards, two touchdowns
▪ QB Dakereon Joyner — 9 rushing yards, gave a change-of-pace look for the USC offense
▪ RB Deshaun Fenwick — Ran for 102 yards on 18 carries
▪ RB Kevin Harris — 20 yards on 10 carries, one touchdown
▪ WR Xavier Legette — Caught three passes for 34 yards, including his first career score. Returned one kick for 25 yards.
▪ TE KeShawn Toney — Played offense and special teams
▪ OL Jovaughn Gwyn — Started his eighth consecutive game
▪ OL Jakai Moore — Started his first game, stepping in for true freshman Jaylen Nichols, who suffered an ankle injury last week
▪ DT Zacch Pickens — One tackle
▪ DB Jammie Robinson — Second on the team with six tackles
▪ DB Darius Rush — The former wide receiver had one tackle and played special teams
▪ DB Cam Smith — Played, no stats registered
▪ DB John Dixon — Played, no stats registered