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CAROLINA FOOTBALL

Orth could start; Samuel, Edwards ready to return

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COLUMBIA -- About 24 hours following South Carolina’s 24-13 loss to Texas A&M Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, Coach Will Muschamp answered questions arising from the loss.

1. Has Perry Orth battled his way back into the quarterback rotation? Yes. After entering the Texas A&M game in the fourth quarter with victory still within USC’s reach, Orth completed 11-of-18 passes for 138 yards, guiding the Gamecocks to a pair of potential scoring drives. His second possession produced a 43-yard field goal from Elliot Fry with 4:23 left that brought the Gamecocks within one score. Orth’s first three completions went for 18, 12 and 28 yards.

Sunday, Muschamp said the coaches are formulating a plan for both starter Brandon McIlwain and Orth to play against Georgia. What does Orth, a fifth-year senior, give the Gamecocks that McIlwain does not? While McIlwain possesses a little more quickness and is a better scrambler out of the pocket (both designed and non-designed), Orth allows the Gamecocks to stretch defenses more with deeper throws downfield.

“There are things we gain from Brandon playing quarterback,” Muschamp said. “Brandon did some good things. It wasn’t all on Brandon. We just weren’t getting the ball vertically down the field. Perry was a little better at that in camp and the early part of the season.”

Muschamp hinted that if the Gamecock offensive coaches see on the Georgia defensive film that the Bulldogs are likely to mimic what Texas A&M did in the second half against the Gamecocks, Orth could make his third start of the season on Saturday.

“We’ll have a pretty good idea after Tuesday’s practice,” Muschamp said. “From a preparation standpoint, those guys are a little different in their skill sets. So, we’ll make Georgia work on that a little bit.”

2. Are wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards ready to return from hamstring injuries? Yes. Both players ran during Sunday night’s practice and “looked good,” Muschamp said. Samuel missed three straight games after tweaking a hamstring on the first offensive snap at Miss. State. He persevered through the rest of the game, but sat out ECU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. The absence of Samuel and Edwards Saturday hampered the Gamecocks’ passing game.

“Any time you take two vertical playmakers, it’s going to hurt you,” Muschamp said. “No doubt, that hurt us. But we played who we had available. I’m proud of the guys playing in how they played.”

More injury news: Linebacker Larenz Bryant is set to make his 2016 debut against Georgia, adding to the linebacker depth. Bryant has appeared in 34 games with 11 career tackles, so he brings some experience to the table. Offensive lineman Blake Camper should return to action, as well. Camper could have played vs. Texas A&M in an emergency situation, but his high ankle sprain was still a little gimpy.

The alarming number of hamstring injuries incurred by the Gamecocks wide receiving corps has caught the attention of Muschamp and many others.

“It is unusual and we have spent a lot of time researching and looking at it,” Muschamp said. “Deebo and Bryan both had issues in high school. Randrecous Davis didn’t really do anything all summer because he has sports hernia surgery because of a pre-existing injury in high school. The workload he is used to is nowhere near what he is doing here. That was an issue.

“But those are the only soft tissue injuries we have had on our football team. From a workout and practice standpoint, we’re doing the right things. Moving forward. We will have more information from the catapult system to be able to monitor these guys. I’m very frustrated for those players and very disappointed for them because they have worked extremely hard and they can make a difference for our football team.”

3. Will freshman running back Rico Dowdle see his role expand after an impressive debut Saturday? Yes. Dowdle showcased the skills that made the Asheville, N.C., product a highly touted prospect in the 2016 signing class. He was USC’s second leading rusher behind redshirt freshman A.J. Turner with 47 yards on 9 carries.

“(Dowdle) played extremely well,” Muschamp said. “He is very powerful in his lower body. He ran through a lot of tackles. He accelerates through contact. His role will continue to expand as we move forward.”

4. Did the Gamecock defense make progress against Texas A&M after being physically dominated in the second half at Kentucky? Yes. Texas A&M finished with 422 total yards (good news: that’s 258 fewer yards than the Aggies amassed years ago) on 79 plays. Yet, except for dropping a pair of potential interceptions and a 49-yard TD run early in the third quarter, Muschamp was encouraged by much of what he saw on Saturday and believes the Gamecocks defense took a baby step forward. They had nine missed tackles, fewest in a game this season.

“Our guys have really improved playing blocks up front,” Muschamp said. “On their long touchdown run, we have to get him on the ground at the second level. But our guys played hard with great effort. For the most part, we played well. Our nine missed tackles are a huge improvement from where we were in Week 1 and Week 2. We are progressing each week and the guys are continuing to buy in. We have a different challenge this week with Georgia’s two-back run game against a number of outstanding backs.”

5. After Jamarcus King muffed a punt return at a crucial moment late in the game, where does the punt returner role stand? Wide open. Muschamp rattled off six names as possible candidates for the job: Chris Lammons, Hayden Hurst, Kiel Pollard, Rashad Fenton, Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel. Everybody should get a look in practice this week.

“It’s open competition,” Muschamp said. “Ball possession is my number one thing right now. We’ll send somebody back there who can first catch it. Hayden Hurst has great ball skills.”

Samuel and Fenton lead the Gamecocks with two punt returns each. Both are averaging 4.0 return yards.

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