South Carolina lost its top offensive threat Saturday, potentially for the rest of the year. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel’s fractured leg means at best he might return for a brief period late in the season.
Replacing him will not be easy for the Gamecocks, although they’re better equipped to deal with the loss than they were in his first two seasons.
If all you did to assess Samuel’s impact was to check South Carolina’s receiving stats, you might not see why this is so impactful. He’s had five catches in each game this season for an 83-yards-per-game average, with three of those going for touchdowns. That’s certainly good, but eight other SEC players have the same or greater numbers of receptions to date. A dozen average more yards per catch.
Whoever becomes the new starter should benefit from more opportunities, so his numbers should rise to a similar level — problem solved, right?
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, that’s not even close to an accurate view of what they’ve lost.
Samuel returned kickoffs for touchdowns in each of the first two games of the season. He ran for a 25-yard touchdown on a sweep in his only carry against Missouri. Samuel was the one player any team facing the Gamecocks knew must be accounted for any second he was in the game.
Samuel didn’t get a carry against Kentucky, which was foolish given South Carolina’s offensive struggles in that game, but the threat he presented impacted the defense’s planning.
So where do the Gamecocks go from here? A few possibilities:
1. More opportunities for Shi Smith
True freshman Shi Smith has eight catches, mostly on shorter throws. He hasn’t gotten any chances on jet sweeps or end-arounds yet. Smith has the quickness and vision to potentially make some Samuel-esque plays in those situations. What he doesn’t have is Samuel’s experience and close relationship with quarterback Jake Bentley. That will take time to develop, but Smith’s workload increasing is the most logical way to keep some of what Samuel brought in the offense.
2. More freshman involvement
While Smith has been starting, two other freshmen made their first catches against Kentucky. Or’Tre Smith caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and Chad Terrell had one reception for 5 yards. Neither is similar to Samuel in how they play, but both are talented and have obvious potential to expand their roles in the wake of his loss. As Will Muschamp put it Tuesday, “One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.”
3. Randrecous Davis
Davis played in two games as a true freshman last season before suffering an injury. While Davis has continued to struggle with a groin issue this season, he has gotten on the field. He had one catch for 9 yards against Kentucky, and Muschamp says he will see more opportunities out of the slot, If Davis can stay healthy, he may be able to take on some of what Samuel brought.
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