Kevin Harris

Is there room for Kevin Harris in the Gamecocks' running-back rotation after scoring three touchdowns among his six carries Saturday? John Amis/AP

COLUMBIA — It needed to happen.

South Carolina had to show it could flex whatever muscle it had and pummel an overmatched opponent quickly and mercilessly. After last week’s still-inexcusable loss (I don’t care what North Carolina’s record is, there is no reason the Gamecocks should have played as badly as they did), USC had to inject confidence, hope or simple goodwill back into a program that lost a lot of faith.

It wasn’t that long ago that USC struggled to put away these kind of teams, or lost to them altogether. Yes, it was an FCS opponent that made 400 grand just to show up.

But the Gamecocks needed to get well and Charleston Southern was the next opponent.

Examining a record-breaking day:

The CSU factor

How much of 775 yards (493 on the ground) and 72 points was because it was Charleston Southern? Probably a lot.

But how much could work against No. 2 Alabama this week, and against the other opponents on the schedule?

Maybe a few.

Surely Will Muschamp and his staff can combine that film, plus film from Alabama’s first two wins, and find something that can crack the Crimson Tide’s defense. The Gamecocks will be large underdogs this weekend and are playing with house money.

They’re expected to lose, so might as well go down throwing everything in that house.

Count on me

Ryan Hilinski played fearlessly in his debut. He made quick decisions, he threw with conviction and was never predictable, and now that it's official that Jake Bentley is out for the season, it's Hilinski's show. 

With all he’s been through, Hilinski won’t be fazed by the next, or any, opponent. Saturday was just what he needed — a team he could feast on knowing that even if he messed up, it wouldn’t be too bad.

The only time he messed up was when he was blitzed, hurried and threw an interception. It was about the only time CSU got pressure all day.

That brought the biggest question from Saturday. Not taking anything from Hilinski, but any quarterback can sit back there and pick his receivers when nobody’s breathing on him.

Alabama just may be a bit better than CSU when it comes to pass-rushing.

Rushed decisions

The Gamecocks used four running backs Saturday. The one they used last led the team in rushing.

Freshman Kevin Harris scored three touchdowns among his six carries and finished with 147 yards, including scoring runs of 75 and 45 yards.

Like with Hilinski’s numbers, it was CSU.

Yet he really looked good running through contact. He really looked good breaking away from tacklers.

Muschamp said, “He’s got a much bigger lower body. He’s a hard guy to tackle.” And his teammates were lauding his physical skills afterward (they said Harris can squat 600 pounds).

Rico Dowdle, Tavien Feaster and Mon Denson played well, but a player like Harris may deserve at least a look against other teams. At least a look.

Magic Man

Dakereon Joyner deserves a start at quarterback one day. Call it a thank you, or call it for what it could be — unpredictable.

He easily could have Antonio Brown’ed the Gamecocks when he lost the backup QB competition to Hilinski. Nobody would have blamed him, either — the kid wants to play QB and he wasn’t going to get much opportunity here.

Yet he stayed, and fortune smiled on him, and he can obviously make something happen with the ball in his hands. That was the plan, to give it to him, and it’s worked.

Now the Gamecocks have to keep the opponent guessing. They may telegraph a run when Joyner is in … but will they run? He could be coming in at some point … but what if he’s in there under center to begin the game?

The Jam

It’s something I noticed. Jamyest Williams is awful lonely back there at free safety.

He’s really athletic and was the prize of Muschamp’s first recruiting class. And he played well Saturday against a team that didn’t like throwing downfield and wasn’t that close to its receivers when it did.

I’m sure Alabama will see this film. I’m sure the Tide will notice Williams isn’t the most physically imposing safety they’ve ever seen.

When they have Jerry Jeudy at receiver, that seems to be a matchup problem.

Fundamentals

The Gamecocks had a lot of very well done tackles in open space. That was encouraging after the UNC loss.

CSU tried to work the sides of the field and the Gamecocks were almost always there, with two or three men in a ball-carrier’s face. There was the one bust, as there can be in a long game, but that was the only one.

USC’s problems with tackling seemed to develop from their concentration on knocking the ball loose. That worked when Dante Sawyer and Skai Moore were around.

They left two years ago. The Gamecocks’ defensive coaches seemed to realize that only after UNC, and got back to getting the ball carrier on the ground.

All gas, but tap the brakes

USC should have won that game, and dominated that game. They did, and the Gamecocks feel proud of that after the disgust over the UNC game.

Are all of their problems solved? Of course not. They can’t really tell a whole lot just from the CSU game.

And they won’t be able to tell a whole lot after next week, either. If what’s expected to happen happens (the Tide roll), well, not many would have looked at that game as a win even if USC had taken care of business against UNC.

Answers for how good this team can be won’t be known until the two games after Alabama. Missouri and Kentucky are toss-ups, with USC probably a favorite over the Wildcats and an underdog to the Tigers, with the home team determining the spread in either case.

Saturday felt good. The previous Saturday felt rotten. The next Saturday will probably feel, “Well, what did you expect?”

The feel for the 2019 season will start being defined in the two games after next Saturday.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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