CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just how good was the South Carolina football team on Saturday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium?
SEC Country grades the Gamecocks’ 2017 season-opening 35-28 victory over North Carolina State:
After his freshman year, one of the knocks on quarterback Jake Bentley was the lack of success he had against defenses that were — frankly — any good. Well, he certainly did enough to beat a strong defense in his first game as a sophomore.
Bentley completed 17 of 29 passes for 215 yards, with 3 touchdowns and an interception. More importantly, he beat a team that was deemed an ACC darkhorse during talking season. But there were a few mistakes that were obvious to the somewhat-trained eye.
There were some throws Bentley missed, a couple of which were early in the game, so one might venture to guess that he was a little juiced up, which isn’t uncommon for any quarterback at the start of a big game. Later on, he took a couple of sacks, though coach Will Muschamp said one of the blitzes is tough for a quarterback to pick up.
If you don’t count the sacks — the NCAA shouldn’t count them against quarterback rushing statistics — Bentley had 3 carries for 19 yards. He looked pretty nifty scrambling and extending plays, particularly on the 39-yard scoring strike to junior wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
All in all, it was a strong performance by a guy who still hasn’t started a season’s worth of college games.
Running backs: C-plus
South Carolina entered Bank of America Stadium not expecting to get much on the ground. The longest rush went for 7 yards by sophomore Rico Dowdle, who finished with 12 carries for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Dowdle did catch 2 passes for 51 yards, including a 34-yard scoring grab that gave the Gamecocks a 14-7 first-quarter lead.
A.J. Turner and Ty’Son Williams only played a handful of South Carolina’s 50 offensive plays. Turner had a 2-yard carry and Williams caught a 5-yard pass.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A-minus
Samuel was the player of the game. He caught 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 6-yard scoring catch — his second touchdown of the day — gave the Gamecocks a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.
The first score was a 97-yard return on the opening kickoff. Samuel saved the best for last.
Sophomore Bryan Edwards matched Samuel’s 5 catches, finishing with 55 receiving yards. His biggest play was a 26-yard first-down grab, which set up Samuel’s second touchdown of the day.
Freshman Shi Smith, who caught 3 passes for 23 yards, saw a significant amount of action. Classmates OrTre Smith and Chad Terrell combined to play a handful of snaps but weren’t targeted with a pass.
Junior Hayden Hurst was the only tight end who was thrown to, but his only reception went for a 2-yard loss. Redshirt juniors Jacob August and K.C. Crosby also saw action.
Offensive line: B
Relative to the hype surrounding the N.C. State defensive line, South Carolina’s offensive line probably deserves an A, but the lack of production on the ground is worth knocking off a letter grade.
On the plus side, offensive line coach Eric Wolford’s bunch did a good job in pass protection, though there weren’t all that many shots taken in the downfield passing game. As Bentley pointed out during postgame interviews, both sacks were on blitzes that brought more defenders than blockers.
Defensive line: C
All things considered, it was a pretty fair performance. N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines totaled 81 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 15 carries, but most of his production was on the perimeter on zone and stretch plays.
Between the tackles, where Reggie Gallaspy primarily ran, South Carolina was pretty good. He had 13 carries for only 27 yards.
Sophomore “Buck” D.J. Wonnum, senior Dante Sawyer and sophomore Keir Thomas each had a sack. Sawyer forced a couple of fumbles, both of which led to touchdowns.
Lost in the excitement of seeing senior Skai Moore having a productive day in his return to action was the game-high, 13-tackle performance by sophomore T.J. Brunson, who was making his first career start. Moore finished with 8 tackles.
Bryson Allen-Williams saw a lot of action at strongside linebacker, though he did come off the edge at times in pass rush situations. He had 5 tackles and a sack.
Even though N.C. State H-back Jaylen Samuels had 15 receptions, he didn’t do much after the catch, averaging 5.7 yards per grab, so the linebackers and safeties did a nice job of minimizing the damage.
First-year players Sherrod Greene and Eldridge Thompson made their debuts, combining for 3 tackles.
This kind of seemed like East Carolina last year at Williams-Brice Stadium. N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley connected on 45 of 64 passes for 415 yards and 2 touchdowns. Wide receiver Kelvin Harmon had 10 receptions for 114 yards. Three other wide receivers caught passes.
After the game, senior safety D.J. Smith said he thought freshman nickelback Jamyest Williams got picked on a little bit. Smith added that he felt like he did, too.
Everybody in the secondary got picked on, D.J.
Fortunately for anyone pulling for a South Carolina win on Saturday, Smith and the secondary got a stop on the final drive of the game to secure the victory.
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