South Carolina looking to toughen up in and against run
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Will Muschamp boiled his team's problems last year down to two things: Running the ball successfully and stopping the run.
North Carolina transfer tailback Ty'Son Williams wants to help with the first thing. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams vows the defense will shore up the other part.
''We're just going to play with a lot more toughness,'' Williams said. ''We've got guys playing in the SEC for multiple years, multiple games and we want to make sure we establish that dominance.''
The Gamecocks have not been dominant for several years since ending an unprecedented three-year stretch from 2011-13 under old coach Steve Spurrier where they went 33-6.
Things have steadily digressed since then with South Carolina going 16-22, including 6-7 in Muschamp's debut season last fall.
Despite a second-half surge - the Gamecocks followed a 2-4 start by qualifying for a bowl game - Muschamp was frustrated by his team's inability to consistently run the ball against the best competition or stop the run in critical times.
South Carolina was 13th out of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference in rushing and ninth overall in rush defense.
Williams, who spent his freshman season with the Tar Heels in 2015 before heading to the Gamecocks, expects to impact his new team's rushing totals.
Williams, a 6-foot, 215-pound sophomore, led all backs at the spring game with 83 yards on the ground. That included a 4-yard TD run.
He's eager to get back to business on the field after his time on the sidelines.
''I don't think words can describe it,'' he said. ''Knowing you're eligible and can put the pads on to play in the first game. It feels good.''
Things to watch at South Carolina this fall:
BENTLEY BALL: Jake Bentley enters this fall as the unquestioned starting quarterback and one of the SEC's rising young guns. Bentley sparked the offense last fall when he came off the bench of his supposed redshirt season last October and let the Gamecocks to a 4-2 finish that qualified them for a bowl game. Bentley helped direct a 24-21 upset of then No. 18 Tennessee and set a postseason school mark when he threw for 390 yards in a 46-39 overtime loss to South Florida at the Birmingham Bowl.
SKAI'S THE LIMIT: Linebacker Skai Moore is back for his final season after missing last year because of a serious injury that required neck fusion surgery. Moore, a senior, couldn't play last year and thought some about jumping to the NFL draft and finishing his rehab as a pro. In the end, Moore wanted to end his college career showing that he could successfully overcome his injury.
LINEBACKING DEPTH: You'll need a scorecard to know the Gamecocks' backup linebackers this fall. After returning starters Bryson Allen-Williams, Skai Moore and T.J. Brunson, South Carolina will rely on first-year players to pick up most the slack. ''Linebackers if you're listening, come to South Carolina and you'll get a chance for playing time,'' Muschamp said before practice started.
SPECIALIST SEARCH: South Carolina will have a new kicker, punter and long snapper this fall. Alexander Woznick gets first chance to take over for all-time leading scorer Elliott Fry as kicker. Michael Almond and Joseph Charlton are fighting for Sean Kelly's spot at punter. The same is true for Ben Asbury or Harrison Freeman, competing to take over for Drew Williams at long snapper. Danny Gordon has the inside track on Kelly's job as holder.
SINGLE MINDED: Think Will Muschamp is focused on football ? He was asked if the Gamecocks only open practice, held at night, on Aug. 21 had anything to do with the pending eclipse that will be visible in Columbia earlier that day. ''Are you kidding?'' Muschamp responded. ''What day is the eclipse? Do we have to shut our eyes when it happens or something? I'm not very good with that kind of stuff.''
KEY GAMES: At Tennessee, Oct. 14; at Georgia, Nov. 4.
PREDICTION: If the Gamecocks won seven games this year, given their defensive deficiencies, and finished in the middle of the SEC East, that would be a significant step forward in coach Will Muschamp's second season. Should South Carolina stumble early against opponents like North Carolina State, Missouri and Kentucky, it could be a long season.
SEASON OPENER: South Carolina faces North Carolina State in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 2.
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