A week ago, the ship was sinking fast, or at least that’s the way it felt, and fans were preparing to jump overboard.
Going into week two, the coaching staff knew that they had to make some crucial adjustments to right the ship, and make a statement.
On Saturday, against Charleston Southern, that statement was made, and wow, what a statement it was.
Yes, we know who the opponent was, and yes, we are trying to remain grounded in our excitement.
However, you can’t argue that it felt amazing to see the Gamecocks truly be dominant for once.
With new life breathed into a fan base that was desperate for it, let’s enjoy the victory and look back at all that went right, and the minor things that went wrong.
A+ Debut For Ryan Hilinski
With senior QB, Jake Bentley, out with a foot injury, the weight of the Garnet & Black world fell onto the shoulders of true freshman, Ryan Hilinski, as he prepared for his first start.
Safe to say, the Ryan Hilinski era got off to a hot start Saturday.
Ryan completed 24 out of 30 pass, throwing for 282 yards and scoring three total TD’s on the day (two passing, one rushing).
With numbers like that it is easy to see why fans think that Hilinski is the much needed spark to set the offense ablaze.
Not only did he look poised, confident, and accurate, but the offensive line, receivers, and backs all seemed to up their collective game, and rally around him.
If Hilinski improves (which we expect that he does, considering how much upside he has), Carolina could hang with just about any team on the schedule.
If the rest of the offense keeps the fire burning that we saw on Saturday— a fire that exploded for 775 total yards (a school record)— then there very well could be a few upsets in the future.
The Backs Looked Incredible
Simply put, the running game was unbelievable.
No matter what the situation on the field was, and no matter whose number was called, the running back position found ways to be productive.
Dowdle ran angry and looked as if he had something to prove. Feaster looked dynamic catching out of the backfield and elusive in open space.
Denson reminded the crowd just how powerful he is with some good blocking, and Kevin Harris… oh my… Kevin Harris was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day.
His 147 yards on six carries and 3 touchdowns made him look like the most talented person on the field at any position.
His ability to break tackles and power through walls of defenders, certainly makes the rushing attack a huge source of optimism for games to come.
Considering that before the season the backs received a large portion of criticism for the lack of production, it appears that through 2 games, there is a night and day difference.
And that has to have fans excited for what’s to come.
The Defense Looked Improved
This past week before the game, I mentioned that the defense needed to show-off some huge improvements for the fan base to truly believe in this team (and even then the buy-in may be minimal due to the opponent).
While it’s hard to parse exactly how much improvement there has been, from a fundamental standpoint of the Gamecocks looked composed, talented, and well coached.
This is no small thing.
Against UNC there were missed tackles, guys playing out of position, and a plethora of avoidable mistakes that made fans question defensive coaching and player development.
Against Charleston Southern, however, the defense looked inspired, played with effort, and swarmed to the ball, making plays when they got there.
It honestly looked as if they heard the criticism and allowed it to fuel their production on the field.
When Carolina is ahead in the turnover margin, special things can happen.
A three-interception-day also proves that the defense was we not just surviving, but thriving.
There may come a point in time against a tougher opponent where the difference between a win and a loss is a crucial turnover.
The defense has shown the ability to create turnovers, so now it’s time to see if they can do it again against tougher portions of the schedule.
The Gamecocks scored 72 points without having to kick a punt the entire day.
That feat in itself is quite a staggering bit of information, especially from a team that was criticized so heavily in the season opener for its lack of offensive consistency.
With the score as inflated as it was, and knowing that there were no punts from Charlton in the game, fans may have forgotten the two turnovers that kept the Gamecocks from scoring on every single drive.
The first came early. Nick Muse caught his first pass for as a Gamecock, only to have the ball stripped away.
Fortunately for Muse, the damage was limited, due to the response of the defense. In a different game, however, that fumble could have changed momentum, and led to a loss.
In preparation for the Alabama game, Muschamp will be emphasizing the importance of protecting the ball, because even just one turnover can prove costly as Nick Saban’s offense will look to take capitalize on every mistake.
To go along with Muse’s fumble, Ryan Hilinski threw an interception that could have also proven costly, had the opponent not been CSU.
Because of the otherwise successful nature of the day, Hilinski’s lone mistake was forgiven, but limiting turnovers must be a top priority for the young quarterback if he hopes to escape next week with his first win over a ranked opponent.
A Rare Sighting From Parker White
Late in the second quarter, Parker White was kicking an extra point that would have given the Gamecocks a 45 to 3 lead over the Bucs.
As the ball left his foot, he knew he had missed it and fans groaned.
Once again, the team was fortunate that the mistake did not come back to bite them.
Even so, White must remain consistent with extra points going forward.
The Gamecocks will have everything against them as they move through the more difficult parts of their schedule, and every point will matter.
After the worst opening weekend in recent memory, the Gamecocks responded as well as they could have.
Maybe the CSU game is not an adequate way to judge the rest of the season, but it sure is better to win by 62 points with a new QB, than to fall a second week in a row.
Maybe Bama beats us and proves that the adjustments made weren’t enough, or maybe Hilinski leads us to the Promised Land.
Either way, enjoy this win for as long as you can, because those boys definitely earned it.