Below is our weekly five questions with the opponent’s blog. Kody Timmers of Garnet and Black Attack was my guest this week.
What’s going on with Jake Bentley? Seven interceptions in five games is a pretty big number. What’s the deal?
Well, suffice to say, Bentley’s been having a step-back year -- his first-quarter interception against Texas A&M, for example, was literally one of the worst passes I’ve ever seen him throw. But this is kind of a tricky subject that’s up for furious debate among South Carolina fans.
Bentley has the physical talent necessary to succeed, but he also struggles with the mental component of the game -- specifically, with keeping his emotions in check and not letting himself get too hyped up, too nervous, or otherwise carried away. That’s kind of been the book on him his whole career, and unfortunately, that hasn’t changed even with added experience.
Another factor has been the shockingly unreliable play of the receiving corps, which was supposed to be a strength and what many were touting as among the best in the SEC. Instead, we’ve seen just about the whole unit drop a dizzying amount of passes -- and many of them have been on-target throws. I’m sure that’s not helping Bentley settle down, and obviously it also makes his passing statistics look much worse.
All this to say: Yeah, it’s complicated.
Deebo Samuel was such a good player before his injury. How has he been this season? Is he totally back?
It pains me to say it, but no, I don’t think the Deebo Samuel of old is totally back. He’s currently the leading receiver with 33 receptions for 382 yards, but his four touchdowns are second to Bryan Edwards’ five, and he’s been up-and-down with some wildly uncharacteristic drops.
He’s also been ineffective in the kick return game, although as you’d expect, most teams have been happy to concede a few extra yards of field position to avoid kicking it to him. It was about this time of year that Marcus Lattimore started rounding back into form after his first ACL injury, so there’s still time for Samuel to get back on track. He’s made some incredible plays this season, he’s just not all the way there yet.
Tennessee and South Carolina sort of traded cornerbacks during the 2018 recruiting cycle. Bryce Thompson is figuring things out pretty quickly for the Vols, how is former Tennessee commit Jaycee Horn doing?
It’s funny you mention Thompson; many Gamecock fans were incredibly frustrated that Muschamp and his staff let him slip away. I’m not a recruiting buff, so I don’t recall, exactly, what the holdup was with Thompson -- but in any case, it sounds like it’s the rare “trade” that has worked out well for both teams.
Jaycee Horn was a Day 1 starter and has flashed a lot of talent and football IQ already. Going into the season, the Gamecocks’ secondary was assumed to be a largely disastrous work in progress, but Horn has been a major factor in making that unit surprisingly respectable. Most South Carolina fans and observers are expecting big things out of his career moving forward.
Tell us about this defensive unit. What does South Carolina do well? What do they not do so well?
The Gamecocks are very much a bend-but-don’t-break unit that is content to give up yardage between the 20s, but lock it down in the red zone -- South Carolina has done a great job with forcing opposing offenses into field goal attempts. On the other hand, I’m not sure this unit could bring down a five-year old running the ball. The rush defense has been absolutely porous all season long, so if Tennessee is in need of rebooting its rushing attack, this could be what the doctor ordered.
The Gamecocks did a surprisingly decent job on Kentucky’s Benny Snell and A&M’s Trayveon Williams, but have still found ways to get gashed on the ground in every SEC game but Vanderbilt. On the bright side, they’ll finally be getting defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum back, who is arguably the top defensive player and went out during Week 1 with an ankle sprain. We’ll see what kind of effect he has and what possible improvement he can bring to the table.
Who wins and why?
Man. It’s hard predicting most games with this team, but Tennessee in particular gives me heartburn -- this has been a really strange series over the past decade or so. I’ll go with the Gamecocks here since they’re coming off a bye week, the game’s in Columbia, and Will Muschamp is human Vol Repellent, but this is absolutely a tossup and I expect it to come down to the fourth quarter again.
I’ll say 24-21 USC, with South Carolina leaning on its defense to come up with stops and doing just enough offensively to manufacture some points. These Halloween games always crank up the weird, though.