South Carolina entered the season boasting one of the top receiving duos in the SEC — if not the country — in senior Deebo Samuel and junior Bryan Edwards. Three games into the season, we need to add sophomore Shi Smith to the equation to what is now a trio of big-time weapons for the Gamecocks.
Samuel, who is also one of the more dangerous return specialists in the nation, leads the team with 20 receptions. Edwards, a big target on the perimeter at 6-3, 220 pounds, is tops on the team in yardage (211 on 14 catches). But it is Smith, a 5–10 native of Union, S.C., who has emerged as Carolina’s top big-play threat with a team-high 17.4-yard average on his 11 receptions.
In Saturday’s emphatic 37–14 win at Vanderbilt, Smith had a career-high 119 yards on five receptions.
“He’s a really good football player,” says third-year South Carolina coach Will Muschamp. “We’ve got some weapons on offense, and we have got to continue to get him the ball and distribute the ball to some other guys.”
Smith played a key role in South Carolina’s quick start in Nashville. He capped off the game’s opening drive with a 35-yard touchdown catch down the right sideline. Then, early in the second quarter, he was on the receiving end of a 52-yard strike from Jake Bentley down to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Rico Dowdle blasted into the end zone to give the Gamecocks a 17–7 lead.
On both plays, Smith beat a Vanderbilt nickel back in one-on-one coverage.
“We had a really good matchup with Shi in the slot,” Muschamp said. “We felt that coming into the game. We wanted to get him in single coverage, and we did.”
For the game, South Carolina rolled up 534 yards of offense against a Vanderbilt defense that allowed an average of only 308 yards in its first three games, against Middle Tennessee, Nevada and Notre Dame.
The Gamecocks displayed nice balance, as well, rushing for 273 yards — their best effort on the ground against an SEC team since October 2014 against Kentucky — and throwing for 261.
Muschamp was especially pleased with his team’s rushing attack.
“We got a hat on a hat,” he said. “We also made some guys miss. And I saw some of our backs run through contact. … And that is something you are going to have to have in our league, because [other teams] are going to have enough in the box a lot of times.”