Scouting South Carolina: New coach, offensive star power and brutal defensive play

The Gamecocks enter their game against Missouri with a chance for vengeance after last year’s loss.
Redshirt senior Ronnell Perkins runs downfield after intercepting South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski's pass in Missouri's end zone on Sept. 21, 2019. Madeline Carter

South Carolina will enter its game against Missouri without Will Muschamp at the helm for the first time since 2015 after it fired its coach on Sunday.

The Gamecocks ended Muschamp’s tenure after three consecutive heinous defensive performances, which were particularly damning for the defensive-minded coach. Now led by interim coach Mike Bobo, they come in at 2-5, fresh off losses to LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss that foiled a promising 2-2 start to the season.

While South Carolina lacks recent defensive prowess, they can make up for it against the Tigers with All-American offensive skill players and a secondary that is talented enough to rebound. The Maneater spoke with The Daily Gamecock co-sports editor Michael Sauls for an inside look at South Carolina.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity purposes.

The Maneater: Let’s tackle the Will Muschamp-sized elephant in the room right away. Why was he fired, and do you agree with the decision?

Michael Sauls, co-sports editor of The Gamecock: It really came down to winning games. Muschamp is a great guy and they have a lot of respect for him, but he wasn’t exactly winning games recently. My opinion on it is at the beginning of the season, I thought he was on the hot seat, but I figured that COVID-19 was gonna give him an extra year. Obviously, I turned out to be wrong about that. I’ve heard [Muschamp is] a great recruiter, from what I’ve heard he’s a great defensive guy, but it just didn’t translate to the head coaching role.

TM: How do you think the team will respond to his firing?

MS: We had three seniors in the press conference [Monday] morning: quarterback Collin Hill, fullback Adam Prentice and defensive lineman Jabari Ellis. They were all basically saying that they had a players’ meeting at about seven o’clock last night and it was an emotional meeting. The players have a huge amount of respect for him, as we saw it all over social media. I think it’ll be interesting to see how [interim coach] Mike Bobo rallies them around him, but one thing that Ellis said at the press conference that stood out was, “It’s life, it is what it is, but we still got a game to play on Saturday.”

TM: The defense has clearly struggled, giving up 50 or close to it in its past three games, leading to three losses. What’s been going wrong there?

MS: I don’t even know where to start. They didn’t get a lot of pressure on [Ole Miss quarterback Matt] Corral. It was the same way against Kellen Mond for [Texas] A&M and it was the same way against LSU. I think the defense started off really well at the beginning of the season and it really comes down to inconsistent play. It starts at the line. They gotta get pressure, and then when it comes to coverage, they gotta prevent people from throwing 500 passing yards on them. I still think they have a great defensive unit. I don’t know if it’s a morale thing or what, but the defense looked sluggish against Ole Miss, and if they can get it turned around, they’ll be alright.

TM: South Carolina has Kevin Harris, who is averaging about six yards a carry and coming off a career game, as well as an obvious star receiver in Shi Smith. What can you tell me about the offensive studs?

MS: Harris kind of came out of the blue. Last year, he got hurt early on, so he didn’t get much playing time, along with the fact that he was playing behind [then-seniors] Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster. But he’s that dude, I don’t know any other way to put it. He’s a great player, he runs downhill, he’s great in between the tackles. The offensive line played great against Ole Miss, and it resulted in him breaking the single-game school record [for touchdowns in a single game, with five]. If they can keep him going, it’ll keep them having an identity on offense. In terms of Smith, he’s really come into his own. He’s been in the shadows of great receivers his four years here, first Deebo Samuel then Bryan Edwards. He’s solidified himself as the number one guy. I think Nick Muse is number two in receptions and he was 15, 20 behind Smith [the actual difference is even greater — Smith leads all other South Carolina receivers in receptions by 37]. It proves how much they’re relying on him.

TM: Hill was named the starting quarterback after a training camp battle. Why did he earn the job, and how has he played so far?

MS: As far as I know, [then-offensive coordinator] Bobo came in [from Colorado State] and Hill [a transfer from Colorado State] probably had the most knowledge of that system, so I think initially, that probably played a big role in him getting the starting job. He kind of re-won it after the A&M game, because the coaches had confidence in him and thought that he would put them in the best place to win. I know a lot of students and a lot of people on social media are thinking they should move on and try [Ryan] Hilinski again or maybe Luke Doty, the freshman, but as far as just watching the games, I think Hill has done a decent job under center.

TM: Who are some players on South Carolina who might not be all that well-known but could make an impact against Missouri?

MS: Deshaun Fenwick is the backup running back, and whenever Harris is off the field for a breather, Fenwick comes in and does a good job. They’ve used Doty a couple times in some QB sneak plays and he’s got decent yardage, so definitely look out for that. In the receiving game, it’s whoever that number two receiver is. So it might be Nick Muse, it might be Xavier Legette, it might be Josh Vann and it might be Jalen Brooks. [Brooks has] gotten a lot of big targets downfield recently and hasn’t caught them, but he’s a guy who has a chance to make big plays. In the secondary, they’ve got two potential first or second-round draft picks in Jaycee Horne and Israel Mukuamu. Shilo Sanders has stepped up with injuries in the secondary.

Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, Horne and Mukuamu opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

TM: Missouri ended a three-game losing streak against South Carolina last year. How much is that game on the Gamecocks’ minds heading into this week?

MS: It’s definitely gonna be a big one. Bobo’s first as a head coach, and it’s a trophy game. I think knowing that they lost the game last year, and with the circumstances that have happened with the team this week, it’s gonna be a big deal to win this game and get a revenge game from last season.

TM: Final score prediction?

MS: 35-31 South Carolina. We’re gonna be optimistic that Bobo can rally the team and right the ship.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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