By Jeff Owens
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp was pleased with his team's performance in a two-hour scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday, praising his group for its toughness and physicality it showed on the field.
"It was a good physical day, and that's exactly what we need," he said. "There were some really good hits out there today, and for the 11th day of camp when your legs are starting to wear down, that was good to see."
The scrimmage was closed to the media but Muschamp met with reporters after the session.
The Gamecocks ran 160 plays during the session — 50 with the first-team offense, 50 with the second team, 40 with the third team, and 20 with special teams.
Muschamp said there were only three penalties during the scrimmage — two procedure penalties on offense and one pass-interference penalty on defense. The defense also forced some turnovers.
"I have been pleased with our work ethic and how we have gone about it for 11 days," he said. "I don't feel like we have really taken a step back in 11 days. I think we have taken some steps forward."
He was pleased with what he saw from both sides of the ball, but said the team needs work on sustaining drives and its tempo, as well as protecting the ball on offense.
"Our tempo between each play needs to pick up, because we are going to start the season defensively with two teams that are going to tempo us and I don't know who quickly we are playing right now," he said. "That's something we need to work on next week is sustaining drives on both sides of the ball and keep our mental focus and taking care of the football offensively."
Muschamp said starting quarterback Jake Bentley looked good after the defense had a three-and-out on his first possession.
"He had a beautiful wheel route to (tight end) Hayden (Hurst) and he did a nice job on the check-down on a couple of situational things that I was impressed with," he said. "I think he continues to progress in his knowledge of what we do and how we do it. We need to pick up our tempo offensively, and that's on both sides of the ball."
Michael Scarnecchia ran all 50 plays with the second-team offense, with true freshman Jay Urich running the third team. Muschamp has been impressed with both.
"I was extremely with both Mike and Jay," he said. "I see a lot of progress with those two young men and I have been pleased with their work ethic and their investment."
He was also pleased with what he saw from both the defensive line and offensive line, which both have question marks and are looking for depth.
"We have had good contact and I feel like we are (getting off) blocks much better," he said. "We are disengaging blocks much better up front and we are sustaining blocks offensively better than we have before. I think we are stronger as a football team. The payers are playing with more confidence, because the stronger you are and the more endurance you have the more confidence you are going to have as a player."
Muschamp has been using linebacker Bryan Allen-Williams in some pass-rushing situations and singled out defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who "has had an outstanding camp," and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, who "has been a good matchup inside." DE Dante Sawyer has moved inside in some packages, he said, and freshman Aaron Sterling "is coming along and flashing some."
"I do think those guys have responded to our challenges as coaches to improve the four-man rush," he said.
While the defense looked good, Muschamp is still concerned about depth.
"I do like our first group that we roll out there, but we have to have some guys continue to step up and be more consistent guys," he said. "I don't think it's ability, it's consistency and a lot of that goes to youth and we are working through that right now."
On offense, Muschamp said there continues to be competition at running back, tight end, receiver and on the offensive line. One of the most intriguing battles has been at left tackle, where junior Malik Young and junior college transfer Dennis Daley are competing for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson is working mostly at left guard behind starter Donell Stanley.
"Both of those guys have had their moments," he said of Young and Daley. "I think that is a position that lacks focus when we get fatigued and we need to continue to work that."
Zack Bailey continues to work at right tackle, with Blake Camper backing him up and Young able to move back to the right side, if necessary.
Muschamp said freshmen wide receivers Shi Smith and OrTre Smith continue to impress.
"Shi made some plays today," he said. "We missed him on an inside fade route that was a well-thrown ball just a little bit long. He's an electric guy that can make plays with the ball in his hands."
On the injury front, the Gamecocks have suffered two injuries that will keep players out for an extended period. Freshman safety Jaylin Dickerson suffered a shoulder injury and will have surgery that will put him out for the rest of the season.
Muschamp is disappointed with the injury to Dickerson, who was impressive in spring practice. "He had a wonderful spring and was going to be a contributor for us," he said.
Safety Steven Montac has a stress fracture in his foot and will miss at least 10 days.
WR Randrecour Davis is still struggling with groin and hamstring issues, but Muschamp expects to have him back next week. Defensive back D.J. Smith missed the scrimmage following the death of his grandfather.
DE Shameir Blackshear, who suffered a concussion, has returned to practice and participated both Friday and Saturday.