The South Carolina Gamecocks are 5-3, which is not where they wanted to be at this point in the season. Yet, it could have been so much worse. The reality surrounding the Gamecocks’ 2018 campaign is that Will Muschamp’s team has lived on the edge all year long, with very little margin for error.
By Matt Zemek
Not every game has been close, but winning has rarely been easy. When the Gamecocks have floundered, they have been punished. When they have won, it has often been by the skin of their teeth, scrambling to come back in the second half to rescue a wildly uneven day at the office.
That’s exactly what South Carolina did against Ole Miss.
Jake Bentley’s ride through the 2018 season has been anything but smooth. However, over the past two weekends, he has delivered the goods when his team needed him to be great. He led the Gamecocks back from a 12-point deficit against Tennessee, and then from a 10-point hole against the Rebels. These are not elite opponents, but Bentley was still expected to be a difference-maker in important moments this season. That is what he has become. This gives the Gamecocks real hope for what is left of their season. They play four games. Two are against an FCS cupcake and Akron, but the other two games on the slate will more fully determine how South Carolina feels about its place in the SEC when this regular season ends. One is against Clemson, the other in Gainesville this weekend against the Florida Gators. Winning on Saturday in The Swamp would enable Bentley and his teammates to feel, with considerable justification, that they took all the punches thrown at them this season and remained standing, bruised but resilient and proud.
1 – JAKE, UNLEASHED
These are the best days of the 2018 season for Jake Bentley. As a passer and as a runner, he has been the dynamic player everyone knew he could be, especially in crunch time. Florida is going through profound upheaval at the quarterback position, so Bentley can very firmly place his stamp of dominance on this game with a strong first quarter. If South Carolina’s offense comes out firing and puts 14 points on the board in the first quarter, Florida will have a very tough time playing catch-up and getting caught in a possible track meet. If South Carolina scores 30 or more points, it is extremely hard to imagine the Gators winning this game. Bentley can take control of this game early and not let go. It’s up to him.
2 – BUILD THAT WALL
The wall the Gamecocks have to build is at the line of scrimmage with their defensive front. Florida’s offense is a mess, with quarterback Feleipe Franks floundering and backup Kyle Trask having been injured in practice on Wednesday. Florida can’t dictate what it wants to do on offense with its passing attack. The Gators have to be a run-first team. If South Carolina can take the run away, it will dramatically increase its amount of leverage.
3 – MARGINS
The Gamecocks can’t keep playing every game on the razor’s edge. They won two close ones with fourth-quarter comebacks, but that tendency isn’t generally sustainable. Apply that lesson against Florida.