The offense for the University of South Carolina football team has had its ups and downs this season. That's part of the reason the Gamecocks are 7-5 heading into Saturday's Belk Bowl against Virginia.
However, the unit under first-year offensive …
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However, the unit under first-year offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon has seemed to hit its stride the last third of the season. It will look to continue to do the same against the 7-5 Cavaliers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte beginning at noon.
The improvement of junior quarterback Jake Bentley down the stretch has had a lot to do with the offensive improvement. Bentley will look to exploit the Cavalier defense through the air. Bentley has averaged 246 yards passing in 12 games this season and has thrown 27 touchdowns against 12 interceptions for a 153.6 passer rating.
"I think I'm more knowledgeable of the game," Bentley said about how he has improved from his sophomore season. "I think this year, (I) just learned a lot about leadership and the mindset it takes to win games, not getting too high or getting too low and just staying even-keeled and being able to respond to situations the same each and every time.
"I think that's the biggest image from our whole team, just being able to respond the right way with any situation."
The team will be without senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who has decided to skip the game to prepare for the National Football League draft and to not risk getting injured.
Samuel has 908 all-purpose yards on the season and 14 total touchdowns - 11 receiving, one passing, one on a kick return and one on a special teams fumble recovery.
That means several other receivers will have to step up.
"I'm gonna be taking a lot of reps, most of the reps," sophomore wide receiver Shi Smith said about filling in for Samuel. "We got (junior wide receiver) Bryan (Edwards) and (freshman wide receiver) Josh (Vann) doing it."
Smith has 39 receptions for 597 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Edwards has 52 receptions for 809 yards and seven scores and Vann has 18 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Also producing on the offensive side of the ball have been junior tight end Kiel Pollard, who has 15 receptions for 181 yards and two scores, senior tight end K.C. Crosby, who has recorded 11 receptions for 101 yards, and senior tight end Jacob August, who has seven catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
The Gamecocks have been averaging 440.2 yards per game this season, 277.4 passing and 162.8 rushing.
However, the Gamecocks could also be without junior running back Ty'Son Williams. The former Crestwood standout has missed the last four games with a broken hand and is listed as questionable for the Belk Bowl. Williams has 66 carries for 319 yards and four touchdowns to go along with nine receptions for 152 yards.
If Williams can't go, junior running backs Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson and A.J. Turner will have to step up in his absence.
Dowdle has 117 rushing attempts on the season for 638 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 13 receptions out of the backfield for 127 yards and a score. Denson has carried the ball 82 times for 415 yards and two touchdowns, and has also caught four passes for 25 yards. Turner has rushed 46 times for 294 yards and two scores, and has also caught eight passes for 75 yards and two more scores.
On the other side, Virginia's defense allows 337.2 yards per game.
"I think they're (No.) 14 (17) in the country in interceptions," South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. "They do a great job of getting the ball off of you and create a lot of issues on the back end with some different things they do movement-wise."
Virginia has 15 interceptions on the season as a team, and five of them belong to senior safety Juan Thornhill.
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