South Carolina is in the win column once more.
USC downed S.C. State on Thursday night 50-10 in a game moved up two days due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Ian, which tore through Florida on Wednesday.
The Gamecocks have now won their last two games and head into next week’s game at No. 7 Kentucky with some momentum.
Here are five things we learned about South Carolina on Thursday:
QB Spencer Rattler seems to be progressing
I’ve said for weeks that I thought the ire over Spencer Rattler’s play was overblown.
Yes, it’s been up and down. That also should’ve been expected. He hasn’t had the one blowup game we all keep anticipating, but I believe it’s coming — and Thursday made me think even more so.
Rattler’s statline was mostly flawless. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The two interceptions he threw fell more on Xavier Legette’s inability to snag two passes that slipped through his hands and to a defender.
The ex-OU signal-caller flashed the maturity and pocket presence that had scouts salivating over his NFL potential. Take the throw he made to former Sooner running mate Austin Stogner, for example.
Rattler took the shotgun snap, stepped into the pocket and started to run. Instead of tucking the ball, though, he kept his eyes downfield, spotted Stogner on a backside leak route and delivered a strike for a 15-yard touchdown.
It might not have been his sexiest throw since getting to South Carolina, but it may have been his best.
I’ll concede Rattler torching a terrible Charlotte defense and an FCS foe in S.C. State should be expected, but he’s avoided the egregious mistakes he’s made in past weeks. That feels like legitimate progress.
I said before the year that Rattler is the kind of guy who could go win you a football game given his talent. I think that’s still true, and we’re going to find out whether he is that guy sooner than later.
MarShawn Lloyd is RB1, but Christian Beal-Smith is coming on strong
MarShawn Lloyd deserves a round of applause and then some.
Fully healed and mentally back from the torn ACL that ended his freshman year before it could start, Lloyd has looked the part of the dynamic runner he was as a recruit. He finished Thursday’s win with 80 yards on 11 touches and one touchdown on the ground. Lloyd also added another 11 yards and a score on three catches.
That said, Christian Beal-Smith’s continued recovery from a foot injury that held him out of the season opening win over Georgia State feels like a major step for this offense.
Beal-Smith is used to sharing a backfield. He did so the last two years at Wake Forest and led the Demon Deacons in rushing both seasons. His physical, north-south running style also nicely complements the side-to-side burst Lloyd brings to the table.
The North Carolina native opened some eyes with a pair of devastating downfield blocks that sprung Jalen Brooks in the first half of last week’s win over Charlotte. Beal-Smith added to his recent run of strong form with six rushes for 15 yards and a touchdown, along with two receptions for 13 yards.
Lloyd is going to remain the bell cow for this group barring something unforeseen, but the way Beal-Smith can change the pace alongside him feels like a big step for an offense that could use a smidge more dynamism in SEC play.
Speaking of dynamism ...
WR Jalen Brooks is turning into a home-run hitter
Jalen Brooks was away from the team for undisclosed personal reasons last year, but he’s come back better ever.
Brooks leads the team yards per catch (17.5) and sits second in total yards receiving behind only Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr., who’s bolstered by his 189-yard effort at Arkansas in Week 2.
The one-time Wingate transfer added another big play on Thursday when Rattler hit him over the top for a 54-yard pitch and catch on the first play of the second quarter. That set up a short Jaheim Bell touchdown plunge and proved a score that helped break things open.
South Carolina currently has 31 pass plays of 15 or more yards this year. Brooks’ eight such plays have him tops on the team.
He may not be a guy South Carolina goes to every single play, but Brooks is one who has proven he can take the top off a defense this year. Don’t be surprised if the Gamecocks take a few more shots in his direction moving forward.
The secondary has to clean up its penalties
South Carolina’s secondary projected as a strength this year and, in spurts, has been. Still, there have been way too many penalties on the back end.
The Gamecocks were tagged for three pass interference calls on Thursday — one of which wiped out an interception. South Carolina also earned four pass interference calls against Charlotte.
That can’t continue.
South Carolina will face a Kentucky offense that’s loaded at receiver next week in Lexington. Three Wildcats pass catchers rank among the top 25 players in the SEC in receiving yards per game — including Virginia tech transfer Tayvion Robinson, who owns the league’s second-best mark.
The Gamecocks secondary is going to be pushed next week. It can’t afford to be as “handsy” against Kentucky as it was the last two weeks.
South Carolina’s turnover problem might be turning
The secondary has had way too many penalties, but the defense seems to be finding a smidge of momentum.
After recording just one interception in its first three games, South Carolina now has six in its last eight quarters of play. This week also marked the first time since 2011 that the Gamecocks recorded three or more interceptions in back-to-back contests.
Turnovers tend to come in bunches, as the old adage goes. USC is seeing that of late.
Kentucky ranks tied for seventh in the SEC in turnovers lost (6). Its minus-2 turnover margin, though, sits 10th in the conference.
South Carolina has only forced two or more interceptions on the road in league play twice since beating Georgia in Athens in 2019. It might need to muster some of that magic next week in Lexington to spring another upset.