COLUMBIA — Here’s a switch — South Carolina is having trouble throwing the ball.
It’s never a surprise to hear the Gamecocks aren’t running well. It’s been a problem since 2015 and is a large reason why quarterback Jake Bentley is closing in on several school records, receiver Bryan Edwards is doing the same and receiver Deebo Samuel was a second-round NFL draft pick.
They don’t run well, so they pass. Yet after the first 10 days of preseason camp, and the Gamecocks’ first scrimmage Monday, coach Will Muschamp reported the opposite.
“We’re actually running the ball better, we need to throw it better,” he said. “I thought we’ve run the ball pretty successfully in camp, but we’re not as consistent in the throwing game, whether it’s from a protection standpoint or just throwing and catching it. We just need to be more consistent throwing the football.”
South Carolina will decide on a definite backup quarterback this month, although the winner will still play behind Jake Bentley.
Muschamp said there were moments during the closed scrimmage, like Bentley dialing a long touchdown pass to Shi Smith and then hitting Mon Denson during the one-minute drill, which brought on Parker White for the “game-winning” field goal. Yet Bentley, backups Dakereon Joyner and Ryan Hilinski all need to be better at getting rid of the ball, and the receiving crew needs to be better at catching it.
“At that position, we’re not getting the ball out quick enough,” Muschamp said. “All three, we’re not getting the ball out quick enough.”
He said last week that lack of ball protection was alarming but it’s gotten better. There was only one interception Monday, and that was on a fourth-down “arm punt” where they threw the ball just to get it downfield.
Yet there’s a lot of room to improve.
South Carolina is hoping to obtain a special-teams first this season.
“Sometimes it’s down-the-line guys turning the ball over, so from my seat, you got to keep that all in perspective,” Muschamp said, not revealing names but making it clear it was the younger, less experienced players with some of the mistakes. “Are they correctable errors? If they are, then that’s a good thing. If they’re not, that’s kind of where you are, and you got to understand that, and it’s probably a weakness of your team.”
Tight end Evan Hinson will be out 6-8 weeks after an irregular heartbeat was discovered. Hinson was stretchered out of practice last week when he was having trouble breathing; while alert and sitting up, he was still loaded into an ambulance.
“He’s going to have an ablation surgery on Wednesday,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to be fine. I’m glad we caught it on the (echocardiogram).”
The long-term prognosis appears good after former Gamecock Taylor Stallworth had the same procedure during his career. Stallworth is heading into his second year with the New Orleans Saints.
Yet Hinson, who gave up being a two-sport star by leaving Frank Martin’s basketball team in the middle of last season so he could concentrate on a potential NFL career, has another setback. A favorable time for him to return would still have him missing the first five games.
The Gamecocks’ tight ends are suddenly sparse. Hinson was expected to be a top backup to Kiel Pollard, who Muschamp said is “working through” a stinger. Kyle Markway, Will Register and transfer Nick Muse (if he’s cleared by the NCAA) would be next in line.
Rico Dowdle has never been able to stay off the injured list during his South Carolina career.
Feaster going full contact Wednesday
Running back Tavien Feaster, the headline of camp after transferring from Clemson, will have his first full-contact practice on Wednesday. He was a day behind to get his paperwork cleared at the start of camp, missed another day to participate in graduation ceremonies and has yet to go full contact after a nasty bout with an infected tooth.
The tooth’s been pulled and he should be fine, Muschamp said.
Thomas, Enagbare recovering
Defensive linemen Keir Thomas (ankle) and J.J. Enagbare (knee) are still recovering from slight preseason injuries. Enagbare will be full-go Wednesday while Thomas could be cleared next week.
Safety J.T. Ibe strained a pectoral, the same injury he had at his first college, Rice, and could miss a week. Guard Donell Stanley sat out Monday’s scrimmage with a back spasm but will return this week.