Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
The following week after Georgia plays Florida in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs will travel to Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks will be coming off a matchup against Vanderbilt on the road. This will be an interesting game to watch because the Bulldogs will more than likely have the mindset of revenge as South Carolina upset Georgia at home in Sanford Stadium in 2019.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Head Coach: Will Muschamp
2019 Record: 4-8, 3-5 SEC
Key Returnees: quarterback Ryan Hilinski, running backs Deshaun Fenwick and Kevin Harris, wide receivers Shi Smith and Josh Vann, tight end Nick Muse, defensive lineman Aaron Sterling and Keir Thomas, defensive back Jammie Robinson and R.J. Broderick.
Key Losses: quarterback Jake Bentley (transfer), running back Tavien Foster, Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson, wide receiver Bryan Edwards, tight end Kyle Markway, defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum, defensive back J.T. Ibe.
1) Hire of Mike Bobo as the New Offensive Coordinator
Probably the biggest storyline for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the offseason was the hire of former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo.
South Carolina’s offense struggled last season as they finished ranked No. 96 in the FBS in total offense (371.9 ypg), and No. 104 in scoring offense (22.4 ppg) under former offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. McClendon, a former Georgia staffer, was demoted after the offense failed to only score one touchdown in the final twelve quarters of the season. When a change was clearly needed, Muschamp didn’t hesitate to call his former Georgia teammate Mike Bobo to lead the offense.
The biggest question is – what can we expect from Bobo’s offense at USC in 2020? While at Colorado State, Bobo coached a team that had a pass heavy approach. However, when he arrived in Columbia, he expressed that he wanted to have a more balanced attack since he’s now back coaching in the SEC. Bobo also expressed that he wants to put more emphasis on play-action passing and the power run game.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak canceled all spring activities, it will be interesting to see what his offense will look like next season with limited practice in the fall.
2) Development of Ryan Hilinski
After Jake Bentley went down with a season-ending injury last year against North Carolina, Hilinski has been the go-to guy at quarterback for the Gamecocks. And while Hilinski had several shining moments during his freshman year, there are plenty of areas in his game that he can improve on.
Last season, Hilinski completed 236 of 406 passes for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. Due to inconsistent offensive line play, he was sidelined with a couple of nagging injuries. Luckily, heading into the fall he should be fully healthy. Hilinski will get a fresh start in a new system under Bobo as the two seem excited to work together. At Georgia, Bobo developed quarterbacks like David Greene, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray. So, the sky is limit for Hilinski.
Behind him, true freshman Luke Doty and redshirt junior Jay Urich are going to be his primary competition heading into fall camp. Doty, a former four-star prospect, shouldn’t make a big push for the starting job, but is considered to be the top contender to be Hilinski’s backup. Meanwhile, Urich will be Doty’s main competition for that No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Colorado State graduate transfer Colin Hill will join the Gamecocks this summer as he recovers from a torn ACL. Hill, who knows Bobo’s offense the best, could really make a pitch for the starting job. But, that will solely rely on Hilinski’s progression.
3) Fresh News Faces On the Coaching Staff
In addition to hiring Bobo, Muschamp had a complete overhaul on his coaching staff that looks completely different from last year. In fact, he only kept three of his on-field coaches from last season. That list includes defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, offensive line coach Eric Wolford, outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson.
Muschamp did shuffle around a few of his staff members. Former offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon is now focusing on the wide receivers, and Bobby Bentley transitions from tight ends to running backs. Assistant Kyle Krantz now takes over as the special teams coordinator, as well. The team also welcomes some new faces as well.
Of the revamped staff, aforementioned Bobo will also coach the quarterbacks, replacing Dan Werner. Alongside Bobo, former Bulldogs starting quarterback Joe Cox will take over as the new tight ends coach. Former Tennessee and Georgia defensive line coach Tracy Rocker will assume that same position under Muschamp. Former Kansas City Chiefs staff member, Rod Wilson, will coach the linebackers. Finally, former Ole Miss staff member Paul Jackson will be the new strength and conditioning coach. It will be interesting to see how these seasoned veterans can develop the Gamecocks in the offseason heading into 2020.
4) A Need for Skill Players
South Carolina returns six starters on offense from last season, but four of them were offensive lineman, which means there are several vacancies to be filled at the skill positions. The biggest loss was at the running back position where Rico Dowdle, Tavien Feaster, and Mon Denson all have exhausted their eligibility. The trio accounted for 80% of South Carolina’s rushing attack last year.
Going into the fall, the Gamecocks do have three very talented running backs that should fill those holes on the depth chart. Those names include sophomores Kevin Harris and Deshaun Henwick, and early enrollee MarShawn Lloyd. Per 247Sports, Lloyd is the No. 5-ranked running back in the country out of Maryland and is predicted to make a serious run the starting job. Even though Harris and Fenwick return, it’s Lloyd that’s seen as the clear frontrunner of talent in the group.
South Carolina will lose their leading receiver from a year ago in Bryan Edwards, but senior Shi Smith should be able to make up for that lost production. In 2019, Smith hauled in 43 passes for 489 yards and two scores. Behind Smith, there is going to be some competition between Josh Vann, OrTre Smith, and Xavier Legette. Dakereon Joiner is another name to watch as he is making the full-time switch to receiver after splitting time at quarterback last year. Early enrollee Mike Wyman could has potential as well.
5) Turnover on the Defensive Line
While the Gamecocks will definitely have to find depth at the linebacker position and in the secondary, the main priority will be replacing Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnum and Kobe Smith on the defensive line.
Thankfully, there will be plenty on hand heading into the fall to fill these roles. Senior defensive end Aaron Sterling is at the top of the list, and is a lock for a starting job after leading the Gamecocks in tackles for loss with 10.0, and tying for the team lead in sacks with 6.0. Another seasoned veteran that returns is Keir Thomas, who is also a prospect that could land a starting role. Thomas had to redshirt last season after starting in 25 games from 2016-18.
It’s likely that Zacch Pickens and Rick Sandidge will battle it out for the final defensive tackle spot. Brad Johnson will likely replace Wonnum at the BUCK position, but Rodricus Fitten could battle him for that spot. Others such as Joseph Anderson, Jabari Ellis, Devontae Davis, and M.J. Webb will all compete for playing time as well. There will also be a few incoming freshman that are up for the challenge, including five-star Jordan Burch.
Early Prediction: Georgia wins 34-13