So we’ve been giving you a ton of information about our own team the past few weeks, and you can find links to a bunch of those articles here. But we need to start getting to know the enemy, too, and for that purpose I linked up with Kodi Timmers of our South Carolina sibling site, Garnet and Black Attack, for some answers. His answers are below, and you can check out my answers to his questions through the link at the end of this sentence.
THB: It seems like quarterback Jake Bentley is the subject of a lot of conversation as people try to figure out how they really value him. One of our writers, Jacob Cowden, is really high on him, but I’ve also seen some less positive discussion (mainly around a fairly high volume of interceptions). What’s the thought about him over there at GABA?
KT: For the most part, we at GABA (and elsewhere in the South Carolina fanbase) have largely grown to just accept Jake Bentley for who he is: an above average college quarterback who can be frustratingly inconsistent. I’ve alluded to this before, but I think in some ways, he’s the victim of his own success; he had a really promising freshman year, so merely being pretty good since then has felt like a disappointment for some folks. Physically, he’s absolutely the most talented quarterback we’ve had in a while, but he seems to struggle with keeping his nerves and emotions in check. His bad decisions tend to compound on themselves (hence your aforementioned volume of interceptions), but when he’s on, he’s doing things like torching Clemson’s defense for 510 yards and five touchdowns (and don’t let them tell you it was all against backups, because it wasn’t). A vocal minority in our fanbase will holler for a backup to enter the game the second Bentley takes a false step, but then again, that happens with just about every quarterback.
THB: What is South Carolina’s roster’s biggest strength and biggest weakness heading into Week 1?
KT: Aside from stability and experience at quarterback, I’d say the defensive line is one of the biggest strengths of the team. It took a while, but there’s finally a good mix of talent, depth, and veteran experience to lean on. Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum are the headliners, but there’s also former five-star Zacch Pickens in the mix and some less heralded guys like Keir Thomas and and Aaron Sterling who put in solid work too. The defensive backfield is still a concern -- given that a former running back, A.J. Turner, is now taking snaps full time at corner -- and the running back stable is a little worrisome as well (again, partially because A.J. Turner is no longer part of it). South Carolina’s running game has been consistently mediocre to outright bad under Will Muschamp with a slew of backs who are just decent, and that definitely needs to change to give Bentley some help and prevent the offense from being too one-dimensional.
THB: Former Clemson running back Tavien Feaster was a huge get for you guys as a graduate transfer, but he only made it to Columbia pretty much exactly a month ago. Is he slated as the starting running back, and if so (even if not, really), how have the reports from camp been? Is he gelling with the scheme and his new teammates?
KT: Feaster is currently listed as the starter, but then so are Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson, so it’s hard to say who gets the first carry in Charlotte. Under Muschamp, the running backs have typically been handled with a platoon approach, though that’s less a function of his philosophy and due more to how we just haven’t had anyone separate himself. As such, Feaster definitely has the opportunity to be that guy, and reports from camp have been very encouraging. It sounds like he came in all business and has helped light a fire under Dowdle as well. I’m not expecting him to be some kind of monster out of the backfield -- that’s a lot to put on his shoulders -- but if he can give us a reliable option in the run game, that will be a much-needed and appreciated boost to this offense.
THB: Who is going to be South Carolina’s biggest non-QB impact player this year, why is it Javon Kinlaw, and what do you expect from him in this game and going forward?
KT: Man, Javon Kinlaw is so fun. He’s an agile and athletic 6-foot-6, 300-pound, one-man wrecking crew who just has a knack for getting to the quarterback and making big plays. Last season, he racked up 10 tackles for loss, a team-high 4.5 sacks, broke up five passes, and forced two fumbles. (He also has a pair of blocked field goals to his name.) It’s fair to say we expect a lot from him as a veteran leader of this defense, and in this game in particular, he’s got some opportunities to feast with UNC starting some new faces along the line of scrimmage (not to mention a true freshman quarterback). As previously mentioned, South Carolina’s defensive line is a strength, and it definitely starts with Kinlaw and his pal Wonnum.
THB: Justify the idea that “Carolina” should refer to the University of South Carolina before the University of North Carolina.
KT: Ha, I’m probably the absolute last person who should be asked to tackle this. I’m from North Carolina and my older brother went to Chapel Hill, so I grew up pulling for the Heels. As such, I’m kind of on the outside looking in with the “Carolina” conflict -- my mom likes to say that we’re a true Carolina family, and most of us use “Carolina” freely to refer to both schools. I’ll admit that UNC has cornered the market with national brand recognition, but I also don’t see anything wrong with USC using it as well. “Carolina” is in the name of both institutions and states, after all, and thanks to the teams being in different conferences, it’s usually clear from context which Carolina you’re talking about. I just can’t get too worked up about it one way or the other, to tell you the truth. Sorry, no hot takes here! (Unless my apathy is in itself a hot take, which it very well may be.)
THB: And finally, what’s your prediction?
KT: All of the recent games in this series have been sloppy, and I’m not sure I see that changing this time around due to a neutral field, Week 1 rust, personnel changes, etc. I think the spread with South Carolina at -10 is fair -- I could see a 24-10 type of slobberknocker, with Muschamp turtling on a lead. I think UNC has some nice pieces, but USC is just a few steps ahead right now in terms of depth and experience.
Thanks so much to Kodi for his informative answers! I’d plug a Twitter handle, but he doesn’t seem to have one, so just go check out GABA for more South Carolina coverage!