There’s plenty of reason for optimism for next year’s football team, one that should be the best of the Muschamp era. There’s also reason for some doubt, mainly three key position groups which lack talent and/or experience going into next season. The development of these groups could be the difference between another mediocre season and one in which the Gamecocks break out.
Since Mike Davis, Carolina hasn’t had a consistent rushing threat that they can lean on. It doesn’t look to be any different going into the 2019 season.
Returnees include Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson, Deshaun Fenwick, and AJ Turner, who is also working at defensive back. They will be joined by freshman Kevin Harris.
Last season, the team averaged 147 rushing yards per game, which ranked 89th in the country. New running backs coach Thomas Brown didn’t mince words when it came to the talent he would be inheriting, admitting that they have “underperformed”, which would be an understatement.
Their performance next season will be big in the offense taking the next step that is necessary. Based on his track record at Wisconsin and Miami, and what we’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to doubt Thomas Brown.
Until the players show they can play well consistently though, it’s tough to see this not being a weak area next year.
The loss of do-it-all Deebo Samuel to the NFL draft will be tough to overcome.
Coming back to fill that void will be Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith, Josh Vann, and OrTre Smith. Edwards and Smith have been contributors since they stepped on campus, but took a step back last season and had consistency issues.
Vann will be a sophomore and will need to take a step up after a disappointing first season. OrTre Smith showed promise his freshman season but missed almost all of last year due to injury.
There is plenty of talent in these four players but before they show consistency there is reason for skepticism. Outside of those main four contributors, you’ve got Randrecous Davis, Darius Rush, and Chad Terrell.
Incoming freshmen are Xavier Legette and Tyquan Johnson. Replacing Deebo with one person isn’t possible and nobody should expect that. It will need to be a group effort, mostly from Edwards, Smith, Vann, and Smith.
If that group struggles with getting open or catching the ball, it could be a long season.
Linebacker is another position Carolina has struggled with for years, and it was never more evident than last season.
Florida and Clemson are two games that stick out where they didn’t play well and it wasn’s hard to see. Returning will be T.J. Brunson, Eldridge Thompson, Sherrod Greene, Rosendo Louis Jr., and Ernest Jones.
Brunson is good against the run and led the team in tackles last season, but all of these players struggle in coverage. They left the middle of the field wide open, which hurt the rest of the defense too. Improving in coverage will be critical to success on defense next year.
This position group is the biggest weak point on the team next season and they will need to drastically improve in order for Carolina to have the defense they need to compete with the upper-tier teams on the schedule
The running backs playing well can change the entire offense because it sets up play action and easier throws for Jake Bentley. Drops by receivers also need to be limited and not cost us games. Linebackers covering the field well will help the rest of the defense. These improvements affect the rest of the team, which is why it’s so important they are made.
To have a successful season, these three position groups will need to continue to develop and play consistently well. Going forward, they should also be fixed in recruiting, with some big 2020 targets playing these positions.
Improvement in these areas could be the difference between going 6-6 or 9-3 in 2019.