Photo Courtesy of @GamecocksAthletics
The annual Garnet & Black Spring Game is this Saturday at noon in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks are coming off a 9-4 season that ended with a comeback victory against the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl that ultimately landed Bryan McClendon his new gig as offensive coordinator.
It was an offseason that presented some new additions to USC's staff including new quarterbacks coach Dan Werner. Kurt Roper was relieved of his duties as OC at the end of the regular season.
South Carolina has improved each season under Will Muschamp in terms of number of wins. In Spurrier's last year, the Gamecocks finished with a 3-9 record, half of which belonged to interim coach Shawn Elliot after Spurrier quit halfway through the season. In 2016, Muschamp's first season, he got the Gamecocks to a 6-7 record that included a bowl loss to South Florida in overtime. In 2017, he got the team to a 9-4 overall record with that bowl win over big blue.
With the spring game upon us, here are a few things to watch for in the game...
Tempo on Offense - With a new OC and QB coach, the Gamecocks are looking to revamp their offense. This spring, in practice, they have been going with an up-tempo style and running a lot of plays as a result. This new-look offense will come with some new challenges but once it's been implemented and engrained into the fiber of the players, it could be really dangerous. Tom Luginbill was quoted as saying, "I've never seen a Will Muschamp offense like this...no lie...you would have thought they were old school Oregon with their tempo."
In the scrimmage this past Saturday, the tempo offense was on full display and Muschamp was able to come away encouraged by the fact that there were no illegal procedure penalties during it. So be prepared to see some more fireworks and a faster pace in Saturday's glorified scrimmage.
Jake Bentley - Dan Werner, in my opinion, was a great get for South Carolina. This is a guy who has worked with multiple quarterbacks that have gone on to be successful in has career. And with Kurt Roper out as OC, Bentley will be having to adjust to new positional coaching as well as an "edited" playbook. He has a ton of talent surrounding him at skill positions but he did last year as well.
In this game, watch for how Bentley looks running the new-look, up-tempo Gamecock offense. Does he look comfortable? Has his footwork & weight transfer improved from last year? How quick is he getting rid of the ball? Is he making good reads? Do the guys around him respond to his leadership on the field positively?
There's no doubt Bentley has a good work ethic and the talent to be a great college quarterback. But if he hopes to help his team reach new heights and compete on a bigger stage, he has to fix his technical issues from last season and prove that he is mentally ready for adversity. At times last year it was patently obvious that he was quick to lose confidence in himself.
While a lot of his accuracy issues can be traced to technical issues in his footwork and weight transfer, there is a substantial portion I think can be traced to his mental. USC's offensive line has been suspect at best the past couple seasons, which also attribute to Bentley's problems with accuracy (feeling rushed and not having time to make reads, set his feet, etc.), but many times last year when he was making bad throws there was nobody close to tackling him and he still rushed the play. He hears ghosts at times.
Majority of quarterbacks deal with proverbial "ghosts" at points in their careers but the good ones always overcome them. Later in the year, he did a better job of not forcing some balls and tucking it and making plays with his legs. He will need to continue to do that as well as allow plays to develop, trust his o-line and the guys around him to do their jobs and trust himself and his ability to get guys the ball accurately and in a timely manner.
The Defense - Without getting too wordy, I think the defense this year may actually end up being better than last year's. That may not sound like a revolutionary statement but remember that the Gamecocks lose a lot of experience in the secondary (Chris Lammons, Jamarcus King, DJ Smith) and their leading tackler on the team for four of the last five seasons in Skai Moore.
It's obvious that Muschamp has done a great job at making the defense of South Carolina better each year so far and I look for this year to be a continuation of the first two. They play tough, fast, and with a high motor and intensity. While a lot of experience is gone from the defense, there is a lot returning as well and the guys stepping up into starting roles in the secondary, I think, have the potential to be better than the ladder.
Lockdown corner, Rashad Fenton is back along with Steven Montac, Javon Charleston, Keisean Nixon and Jamyest Williams at the nickel spot. There is new incoming talent as well in guys like Israel Mukuamu, who is enrolled and participated in spring practice, and a 4-star guy in Jaycee Horn who won't be on campus until the fall. The depth is of concern but the talent is there.
The defensive line has the potential to be reminiscent of the "glory years" of Gamecock football. Not because of names or star ratings, but because of developed talent and size. The starting d-line during spring practice was DJ Wonnum, Keir Thomas, Aaron Sterling and Javon Kinlaw. Wonnum began to blossom into a star later in the season and I believe he will carry that over into this year. Kinlaw has cut down a lot of weight in the offseason but is not lacking in size, muscle, athleticism and speed. He is going to be a force on the interior of that line.
In the linebacking core you have Bryson Allen-Williams returning from an injury that sidelined him last season as well as TJ Brunson who was second on the team in total tackles last year, just behind Skai Moore. Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson and Rosendo Louis are a couple other names that come to mind when I think of impact off the bench.
As we all know, spring games are really just glorified scrimmages. They are tailored more for the fans but they are still important for players and coaches due to it being nationally televised and having recruits on campus. The goal is to display to the fanbase that there is talent, potential and something to get excited about for the months leading up to the season. For players and coaches, it's a chance to evaluate and be evaluated on a little bigger stage and to get the new guys acclimated to more of a game-type situation.
If you plan on going to the game this Saturday, watch for what I mentioned above and just enjoy the football you're getting to watch because once it's over, you have to wait until August for more.