COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Before the season started, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp remarked how he hoped senior wide receiver Shi Smith would have an outstanding and productive senior season.
So far, the Union County product has gotten off to a great start. In Carolina’s season opener, Smith had a game-high 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Needless to say, Smith proved to be quarterback Collin Hill’s favorite targets against Tennessee, but the Gamecocks will need other receivers to step up to take some of the focus off Smith moving forward.
“We need some more guys to step up,” Muschamp said in Tuesday’s media availability. “You’ve got to win in man coverage in this league. We had some guys targeted and other opportunities. If you can’t create separation, it’s hard to throw it to you. So, we’re not just going to throw to a guy that can’t get open. At the end of the day, we’ve got to look at some other guys. Luke Doty’s going to have some opportunities. If you can’t win in man coverage, it’s hard to throw it to you. We’re going to see man coverage Saturday. We’re going to see it for the rest of the year in our league and that’s just part of it, especially in those ‘deny the ball’ downs in third-and-6 or less. That’s what you’re going to see. You’ve got to win versus man coverage.”
While that sort of productivity is a lot for one guy, Muschamp said during his press conference on Tuesday that’s it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have those kinds of numbers as long as the end result checks off the main objective.
“As long as we’re scoring and winning, we’re good,” Muschamp said, “and if that means going through one guy, go through one guy. If it means distributing the ball better throughout your offense, then that’s what you need to do. It’s about winning and it’s about scoring points.”
Outside of Smith, there were three other receivers -- Xavier Legette, Nick Muse, and Deshaun Fenwick -- who had more than one catch against the Volunteers. Part of that could be credited to the Volunteers' ability to contain the Gamecock receivers in the passing game, which means they’ll have to find ways to creative ways to get him the ball if they want to continue finding success in the passing game.
“We will scheme him as far as getting him in some different spots,” Muschamp said. "Motions, shifts, create different spots for him on the field. for him within the formation whether it’s outside whether it’s inside, whether it’s coming from the backfield, different ways to get him the ball.
Now, with that being said... we’ve got to get more guys involved in the passing game to be able to do that, but the way things were rolling the other night in our first game, them not being able to prepare, not knowing where people were going to be, it’s kind of hard to adjust mid-game and say we’re going to bracket coverage this guy. If you haven’t practiced that, it’s a very difficult thing to do. So, obviously, going into games moving forward, starting with Saturday with [Florida defensive coordinator] Todd [Grantham], they’re going to be obviously trying to target Shi as far as being able to take him out of the route progression."
The Gamecocks hoped to have transfer Jalen Brooks on the field to give them another weapon at receiver. However, the NCAA denied his waiver for immediate eligibility and Carolina is currently appealing to the NCAA to get him on the field.
“I know that we’re working through that right now, the appeal with the NCAA” Muschamp said, “but I don’t know a time on that.”
South Carolina travels to face No. 3 Florida at noon on Saturday.