The South Carolina Gamecocks were one of the nation's best defenses in 2012, but if Saturday's Garnet and Black Game was any indication, offense may rule the world for Steve Spurrier's squad next season.
Before a raucous crowd of over 30,000 fans, the Black team defeated the Garnet team, 44-30, in a game filled with offensive firepower and sloppy play for both sides. As with all spring games, the ultimate result of the game was rather inconsequential. This game is meant to give Gamecocks nation a chance to see the squad, which is expected to compete for an SEC championship again in 2013.
While Jadeveon Clowney and a couple notable faces sat out due to injury, South Carolina did not look like a burgeoning power on either side of the ball on Saturday.
Frustrating turnovers marred almost the entire first half. Dylan Thompson opened the Garnet side's day with an interception to Chaz Elder, who read his quarterback's eyes perfectly. The pick helped set up a Brendan Nosovitch pass to tight end Jerell Adams, who had himself quite the afternoon.
A sophomore who played for both sides, Adams eviscerated both teams' secondaries on Saturday. He had four catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, looking like he may become a big weapon for Spurrier in 2013.
Also having a strong day was running back Mike Davis, who helped Thompson atone for his interception on the Garnet side's second drive. He accounted for a reception and a 15-yard running play on the drive, which was capped off with Thompson throwing a short touchdown to Shaq Roland.
Outside of Davis and Adams, though, the high-scoring affair was not totally indicative of an offensive explosion. South Carolina's defense looked sloppy, missing easy tackles and failing to create pressure—the latter, of course, affected by Clowney's absence. And the offense helped out by turning the ball over and having some inexcusable penalties that would have led to some visor tossing in the regular season.
The Black team went into halftime ahead, 27-23, after accounting for specialist bonus points, which should tell you all you need to know about how serious the "score" is taken in these games.
Just when fans seemed to be heading home disappointed after a shrug-worthy day from their team, though, the coaching staff started letting the kids have fun. Clowney made a brief appearance in the second half to catch a touchdown on a trick play where he came off the sidelines, much to the delight of his adoring public.
But as things tended to do on Saturday, Clowney's catch didn't go off without a hitch. He fell down hard before getting up and scoring. The All-American defensive end was jovial about the experience afterward, but fans had to hold their breaths for a second considering Clowney came in injured.
Clowney's catch was indicative of South Carolina's day: entertaining and fun to watch but still a long way away from perfect.
Dylan Thompson, QB: B-
Starting his day with an interception wasn't the best way for Thompson to prove he's the best quarterback on the Gamecocks roster, but he rebounded nicely. Thompson bounced right back from his pick, leading an extended drive that ended with the touchdown pass to Shaq Roland.
Heading into his junior season, 2013 is expected to be the year Thompson becomes a force in the SEC. Based on his calm demeanor and strong recovery in the spring game, he's off to a pretty solid start thus far.
Mike Davis, RB: A-
Replacing Marcus Lattimore will be no easy task. The Gamecocks' workhorse was the lifeblood of the offense throughout his career at South Carolina, with his dominance only being derailed by injury.
Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds will be competing for that untenable task of replacing Lattimore in 2013, and it looked for at least one day like the former got the upper hand. He scored on a fantastic 25-yard run through the right side in the first quarter and also looked surprisingly spry catching the ball out of the backfield.
There is still plenty of time remaining before the season starts, but Davis looks like the stronger runner in April.
Jerell Adams, TE: A
Undoubtedly, the most promising performance on the offensive side of the ball Saturday came from Adams.
Entering his sophomore season with the Gamecocks, the 6'6" tight end had exactly four catches and 90 yards to his name coming into the spring. Playing for both teams on Saturday, Adams eclipsed his yardage and touchdown stats in the first half alone. He made two touchdown grabs during the first half, the second being a fantastic catch-and-run on a pass from Connor Mitch.
Adams showed both wide receiver-level speed and some power that could make for a promising sophomore season in 2013.
Kyle Fleetwood, S: B
On a day where defensive prowess wasn't all that great for South Carolina, Fleetwood made one of a select few notable plays on that end. Picking up a Devin Potter fumble in the second quarter, the freshman commit scampered his way for a Black team touchdown to put the team ahead 24-13.
The learning curve is still great for Fleetwood, and he probably won't make all that much of a contribution in 2013, but he had a great moment in the sun on Saturday.