COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler saw too much progress and potential to abandon the Gamecocks.
For a second straight offseason, the strong-armed Rattler thought long and hard about the NFL. But he said he, receiver Antwane Wells Jr. and the Gamecocks have more to achieve after their surprising — most would call it stunning — finish to last season.
South Carolina and Rattler mostly bumped along much of the year until catching fire at the the end, defeating top-10 opponents Tennessee and Clemson in back-to-back weeks to close the season. The Gamecocks, underdogs to the fifth-ranked Vols and eighth-ranked Tigers, knocked both out of the College Football Playoff picture.
“Obviously, that next level had a real, you know, choice to pick,” Rattler said. “I just weighed it out. I thought there were more pros coming back. I just feel like we left a little on the table.”
The Gamecocks finished 8-5 in coach Shane Beamer’s second season. Once Rattler, who threw for 3,026 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Wells, 68 catches for 938 yards and six TDs, chose to come back, it sent expectations through the roof both for fans and the team.
Beamer said his players have worked hard during the offseason — “It was a physical-as-could-be, gnarly, nasty grueling summer,” the coach said with a grin — to take that next step forward.
Rattler must be show more consistency to make that happen.
The fifth-year senior, like the much of the team, played his best in those final two regular-season games. He completed better than 72% of his passes in those victories (63-38 over Tennessee, 31-30 at Clemson) for 798 yards and eight touchdowns. Rattler only had two of his 12 interceptions in those wins. His 12 picks were the most of any Southeastern Conference quarterback who finished in the top 10 in league passing statistics.
Rattler did not rest on what he did at the end. “He has not slowed down,” Beamer said. “He was voted our most outstanding offensive player during spring practice and excited to see what he’s going to do this upcoming year.”
Rattler understands he needs to limit his mistakes if the Gamecocks are going to succeed.
“I take total accountability for that. What I see on film is just sometimes me trying to do too much, trusting my arm too much. Just trust the play, trust the offense, just protect the ball. That’s what it comes down to,” he said.
South Carolina has a new offensive coordinator in longtime NFL assistant Dowell Loggains. He replaced Marcus Satterfield, the team’s OC the past two seasons who left for Nebraska right after the season. Loggains has directed attacks for the Titans, Bears, Dolphins and Jets.
WHAT’S THE RUSH?
The biggest question on offense for the Gamecocks and Loggains is the running game. The team was 12th in SEC rushing, then lost three of their top four rushers from a year ago in MarShawn Lloyd, Jaheim Bell and Christian Beal-Smith. The three accounted for 17 of South Carolina’s 27 rushing touchdowns a season ago. JuJu McDowell, with 219 years last year, is the team’s top returning tailback.
Defensive line starters Jordan Burch and Gilber Edmond were among starters who chose to go elsewhere. Burch was a five-star recruit for ex-coach Will Muschamp, but decided to play at Oregon. Edmond went to Florida State. The two combined for 16.5 tackles for loss, close to a third of the team’s total of 57 last season.
South Carolina sixth-year offensive standout Dakereon Joyner has excelled at quarterback and receiver. He hopes to add running back to that list. Joyner joined the tailback room this offseason and has shown flashes he could make a difference for the Gamecocks. “He showed great natural ability as a running back. He’s going to help us there,” Beamer said.
South Carolina opens and closes against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, starting against No. 21 North Carolina in Charlotte on Sept. 2. It finishes against its in-state rival, No. 9 Clemson, on Nov. 25. September is daunting besides the Tar Heels game: South Carolina also visits No. 1 Georgia (Sept. 16) and No. 12 Tennessee (Sept 30).