**Story by Willie T. Smith III/Photos by Juan Blas**
Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley displayed both the passing prowess and ability to direct an offense during the Gamecocks' Garnet and Black spring game that South Carolina coach Will Muschamp expects.
Bentley led the Black squad to a 35-24 victory as he completed 19 of 31 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception.
“I’ve always said we’ve got explosive players,” said Bentley. “Our two most explosive players probably weren’t playing. I think people saw today the depth we have and the vast amount of playmakers we can put on the field.”
Starting running back Rico Dowdle played briefly, rushing for 30 yards on three carries.
Tight end Kiel Pollard and receiver Jerad Washington also had big days, leading the Garnet squad with eight catches for 91 yards and five receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown, respectively.
Fans also got the chance to watch Sumter running back Ty’Shon Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina. He rushed 11 times for 83 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Wide receiver Bryan Edwards and tight end Jacob August were also the beneficiaries of Bentley’s talents. Edwards caught four passes for 111 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown grab on the second play of the game.
“I think we took tremendous strides,” Edwards said of the offense. “We have a good quarterback in there in Jake. We just have people in there who know what they’re doing, who have a year under their belts in the system.”
SC coach Will Muschamp, although always striving for improvement, is pleased with where his offense stands.
“A lot of the credit can go to Jake, but really to our entire offense,” said Muschamp. “To be able to get out of a bad protection, a bad run — a lot of times last year we were ‘call it and haul it’ because we didn’t have the ability to do that.”
Several key offensive performers, including wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst, did not compete. But the Gamecocks displayed enough to give their fans and coaches optimism entering the fall.
“I think we have an opportunity to have a good offensive football team,” said Muschamp. “I said opportunity. I think it is critical for us to get healthy… We need to get some guys back that we have.
“Defensively, we’ve got some unknowns as we go into fall camp, which is concerning, from the standpoint that there are some guys not on campus who are going to need to help us, play for us. That’s not always good leaving spring ball, but that’s where we are right now.”
While the defense still has a way to go, senior linebacker Skai Moore returned to action following surgery on his neck that forced him to skip the 2016 season. His first tackle was greeted with cheers.
“Once I got the OK and the clearance from the doctor I pretty much put all the concerns and worries about any re-injury behind me and just tried to play where I left off.”
If there was a drop-off in Moore’s play, it wasn’t apparent to Bentley.
"Every day he was a factor in practice,” Bentley said of Moore. “It got to the point that the read told us to throw it here, but Skai is there. He is so smart that he is able to take coaching and tweak it a little bit. If he sees a flat route, he is going to jump it.
“He’s so smart. He’s just a great player to go against.”
All the news was not good for the Gamecocks, however, as cornerback Jemarcus King broke his arm. According to Muschamp, a plate is going to be inserted into his forearm and he is expected to re-start weight lifting in two weeks.
2017 Spring Game Awards
Offensive Player of the Spring: Jake Bentley
Defensive Player of the Spring: Dennis Wonnum
Special Teams Players of the Spring: D.J. Smith and Bryson Allen-Williams
Dr. Harris Pastides Outstanding Student-Athlete: Hayden Hurst
Harold White GPA Award (Offense): Bryan Edwards
Harold White GPA Award (Defensive): Daniel Fennell
Harold White GPA Award (Special Teams) Alex Woznick