COLUMBIA — Despite scoring on the first play from scrimmage and two early turnovers on Saturday night, the South Carolina Gamecocks recorded their first loss of the season with a 23-13 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats. The loss is the fourth loss in a row South Carolina has suffered to the Wildcats.
The Gamecock offense and special teams looked inept at times Saturday night, with the lack of a running game, and three missed field goals that kept the Gamecocks from beating their eastern division rival. The Gamecocks offensive line was completely dominated by the Kentucky defensive line. Twice the Gamecocks were denied on fourth and one by the Kentucky defensive, one of those stops coming at the goal line in the fourth quarter that prevented a score that would have allowed the Gamecocks to get back in the game.
Jake Bentley was 24-36 passing for 304 yards and two touchdowns as well as two interceptions. The rushing game was nonexistent for the Gamecocks as Rico Dowdle was the team’s leading rusher with eight carries for only twenty-three yards. In the receiving game Deebo Samuel led the way again for the Gamecocks hauling in a team-high five catches for 122 yards including a 68-yard touchdown to start the game. Union County’s Shi Smith caught one pass for twenty-five yards, and was targeted another time by Jake Bentley but the pass, thrown into double coverage, was intercepted.
The Gamecock defense made some plays on Saturday including an interception from linebacker Skai Moore and a fumble that was recovered by freshman Jamyest Williams. But with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter with a chance to get the ball back down 7 points, the defense allowed the Kentucky quarterback to break containment and run 54 yards and set up a chip shot field goal that put the Wildcats up two scores, putting the game out of reach for Carolina.
To add injury to insult the Gamecocks saw some significant pieces of their team go down with injuries on Saturday. None of those injuries bigger than that of star wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The junior out of Chapman High School had already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, while also catching fifteen passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Coach Will Muschamp initially reported that Samuel had suffered a broken leg and would be out for the remainder of the 2017 season, but later Saturday night Samuel tweeted that he had an ankle fracture and only expects to miss five to six weeks.
With Deebo missing extended time for South Carolina this season, the Gamecocks will look to younger receivers to step up and take his place. One of those receivers that will need to step up to fill the void will be Shi Smith. Shi is said to be the fastest player on the team, and his explosiveness could be exactly what is needed to help fill that gap. The other true freshman receiver, OrTre Smith, could also have a big impact on this team. He caught his first career pass on Saturday night, a nine yard touchdown from Jake Bentley.
The Gamecocks are also going to have to get more creative with their play calling. The offense was very predictable, especially in the run game. For the Gamecocks to find success this season they are going to have to find a way to run the football. Teams are never going to respect the Gamecocks run pass option because Jake Bentley is almost never going to keep the football. Coach Will Muschamp lost his job at Florida mainly because the Gators could never find success or consistency on the offensive side of the football. His last year at Florida Kurt Roper was his offensive coordinator. Good coaches will change their strategy based on the talent that they have.
The Gamecocks will be back in action on Saturday as they will host Louisiana Tech at 3:30 p.m. The Bulldogs are coached by former South Carolina assistant coach Skip Holtz. LA Tech is 2-1 on the season with wins over Northwestern State and Western Kentucky. Their lone loss on the season was a 57-21 loss to Mississippi State in week two.
Tyler Shugart can be reached at [email protected]