South Carolina football: The Gamecocks’ backstretch storylines

The South Carolina football team continues down the backstretch of the 2017 season with an SEC East showdown against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

In Year 2 under coach Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks have a record of 5-2 (3-2 SEC). What are some of the major storylines to monitor over the next five regular season games?

SEC Country takes a look below.

Faster starts

For whatever reason, sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley has started slow in several games this season, though he’s finished strong in most of them, the exceptions being North Carolina State and Texas A&M.

In order to maximize the Gamecocks potential win total this season, it would help if Bentley plays well from the opening whistle to the final buzzer.

Statistically, his numbers are respectable, many of which are among the top half among SEC quarterbacks. Bentley’s completed over 60 percent (7) of his passes for 1,585 yards (4) with 12 touchdowns (T-4). He’s averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (8) and has a quarterback rating of 138.56 (8).

RELATED: Will Muschamp’s approval rating

AJ Turner-South Carolina-South Carolina football
Right now, A.J. Turner (25) and Ty’Son Williams are South Carolina’s top two options at running back. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Run-game progress

Losing sophomore running back Rico Dowdle for the rest of the regular season will make things a little more difficult, but South Carolina still has a dependable duo in redshirt sophomores Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner.

Stability along the offensive line, according to Muschamp, is one of the biggest reasons why there was some success moving the ball on the ground against Arkansas and Tennessee. Two of the Gamecocks three top rushing performances of the season were against the Razorbacks (159 yards) and Volunteers (194 yards).

Up next this weekend is a Vanderbilt run defense that’s given up 242.57 rushing yards per game. That’s 122nd in the country, one spot ahead of Tennessee.

Tougher tests are in store against Florida, Georgia and Clemson.

Keep progressing on D

Led by linebacker T.J. Brunson and Skai Moore, both of whom are among the SEC’s top 10 tacklers, South Carolina’s defense has show plenty of signs of progress under Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson.

The emergence of sophomore ‘Buck’ D.J. Wonnum certainly has played a role in making the unit more respectable. He had 2 sacks in South Carolina’s 7-sack performance against Tennessee. As a team, the Gamecocks are fifth among SEC teams with 17 total.

Nationally, South Carolina is tied for 26th in scoring defense, giving up an average of 19.3 points per game. Only four SEC teams are better.

RELATED: South Carolina’s recruiting philosophy

South Carolina football-Deebo Samuel
How soon can Deebo Samuel return for South Carolina? (Hale McGranahan/SEC Country)

Recovery mode

Muschamp told reporters on Sunday night that he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, but star wide receiver Deebo Samuel could be back before the end of the regular season. The redshirt junior, of course, has been down since suffering a fractured fibula in the second half of the Kentucky game.

Like Samuel, Dowdle and redshirt junior tight end K.C. Crosby suffered the same injury. Both players could be back in time for bowl season.

Offensive linemen Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young are expected to be ready to play this weekend against Vanderbilt.

If the injury bug stays in the first half of the season, South Carolina’s probably looking at 2017 win total that will approach the neighborhood of 8 or 9.

The post South Carolina football: The Gamecocks’ backstretch storylines appeared first on SEC Country.

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