Explosive plays return in a massive way for South Carolina against Ole Miss

See Deebo Samuel’s 90-yard touchdown against Ole Miss

South Carolina football got off to a great start Saturday against Ole Miss, with star senior Deebo Samuel returning the opening kick 90 yards for a touchdown for the Gamecocks to take an early 7-0 lead.
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South Carolina football got off to a great start Saturday against Ole Miss, with star senior Deebo Samuel returning the opening kick 90 yards for a touchdown for the Gamecocks to take an early 7-0 lead.

Besides the phrase “up-tempo,” perhaps no term was used more in the preseason to describe South Carolina’s 2018 offense than “explosive.”

Explosive plays — defined by USC as runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or more — are a central tenant in Will Muschamp’s football philosophy, both preventing them on defense and relying on them in offense to swing momentum in games. And heading into this season, he and his staff seemed confident they were going to have plenty of plays that resulted in chunk yardage.

After a slow start, that confidence is starting to match the results. A game after junior quarterback Jake Bentley threw the longest pass of his career against Tennessee, a 73-yard bomb to junior receiver Bryan Edwards, he topped it against Ole Miss, finding Edwards once again for an impressive 75-yard one-handed catch and score that wowed on social media. It was the longest pass play for USC since Perry Orth and Pharoh Cooper connected for 78 yards in 2015.

“Jake just threw it up, gave me a chance to make a play for him,” Edwards said. “I think that’s my first one like that.”

And that was just one of five pass plays Bentley had that went for 30 or more yards — the kind of play that South Carolina entered Saturday’s game ranked dead last in producing in the SEC at just 10 all season.

“We knew that we could attack them vertically down the field ... based off film,” Bentley said. “It was working, so we kept doing it. And I’m really proud of the receivers for going to make plays and the O-line for giving me time, time and time again, just to get the ball off.”

After Saturday’s game against the woeful Rebel defense, the Gamecocks now have 16 30-yard plays on the year — Bentley added his five completions, and junior running back Mon Denson, who came in late due to injuries and produced his first first career 100-yard game, broke loose for a 69-yard burst in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning touchdown run by Bentley.

“Just saw an open hole, and tried to make sure I got the pads low,” Denson said of what he saw on the play. “Break a few tackles and try to score. ... Once I broke through, I looked up. I thought we were back in (Williams-Brice) where we’ve got two JumboTrons. I thought I could see who was behind me, but I guess I couldn’t.”

Denson’s run was the longest by a South Carolina player since A.J. Turner went for 75 yards against Texas A&M in Oct. 2016.

His fellow running back, Ty’Son Williams, had a quiet day on the ground, but he also got in on the chunk plays with a screen pass in the first quarter that he turned into 50 yards. All told, South Carolina had as many plays go for 50 yards or more from the line of scrimmage against Ole Miss as it had in every other game this year combined.

And all of that is without considering the very first explosive play of the day — senior receiver Deebo Samuel’s 90-yard return on the opening kickoff that staked the Gamecocks an early 7-0 lead. That burst, combined with a 38-yard return in the fourth quarter that set up a touchdown drive, gave USC its first game with two returns of more than 35 yards since at least 2013.

“We look at that as a momentum play,” Samuel said of his first return. “After the kick return for a touchdown, we give the defense energy, they go out there and make a play and get a turnover, and we go out there and score again.”

After the game, Bentley noted that the last time South Carolina wore the uniform combination it did Saturday — black helmets, white jersey and black pants — Samuel also returned a kick for a touchdown against NC State in the 2017 season opener.

But while USC is unlikely to keep wearing that combo in hopes of producing more magic, Muschamp made it clear that he wants to replicate Saturday’s big plays moving forward — especially seeing as Florida’s big play defense has been weak all year, ranking 10th in the SEC in plays of 20 or more yards allowed.

“Continuing to be aggressive down the field, we’re going to continue to do that, we got the matchups to do that, and now our guys are finishing some plays down the field,” Muschamp said.