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Bulls Recon: Talking South Carolina With Dalton Pence of Garnet And Black Attack

Get ready for the Birmingham Bowl by learning about the rebuilding Gamecocks

South Carolina v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

We checked in with Dalton Pence from SB Nation’s about the Gamecocks, and got some quick thoughts from him about the upcoming game, the Muschamp Era, and where USF should be mindful come Thursday afternoon.

Do you think the USF offense/USC defense matchup is as bad as we think it's going to be, or does the fact USC has been playing SEC teams all year skew the stats so that the matchup looks worse than it actually will be?

I think playing in the SEC skewed the statistics to an extent, but the matchup will still be a tough one considering all of the weapons on the Bulls' offense. However, I think the Gamecock defense has had to play significantly due to the offensive struggles.

Have you at any point ever been 100% positive about Will Muschamp?

100% would be a stretch. Even at the time of his hiring, one can't forget his mediocre years at Florida. A struggling offense has raised many concerns, but with promising underclassmen and a quality recruiting class... my confidence is tilted slightly in the optimistic direction.

What do we need to know about Jake Bentley? What does he do well, and do you see him as The Guy until 2019?

Considering we really only have had a relatively small sample size, it's hard to tell. His statistics aren't head-turning, but one thing that sticks out about him is that he's a very efficient passer, completing over 63% of his passes. As far as him being the guy until 2019, there's no telling due to the offensive shifts this year. Earlier in the season, we believed that fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain was the quarterback of the future.

There are 128 FBS teams. Your SEC team is 117th on offense by S&P. WTF, man?

That is a scary statistic, but a lot of that has to do with the uncertainty of who is starting week in-week out. The biggest concern is finding the end zone, something Carolina struggles with. It's critical for Bentley and running back Rico Dowdle to get going early.

What's the biggest thing about this team that isn't borne out by statistics? Who are the explosive players that don't get as much media attention?

One thing about this team is the amount of talent that they have that has yet to mature. Almost all of the starters at the skill positions are underclassmen: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, etc. Some of the explosive players include freshman running back Rico Dowdle who has rushed for 728 yards and six touchdowns basically all in the latter half of the season, and redshirt sophomore Deebo Samuel can affect the game either in receiving or kick returning, as he has generated over 1,000 yards of total offense.

No one has ever questioned Muschamp's defensive credentials. What's he brought to that side of the ball, and do you like the progress you've made this season?

With a struggling offense, there has been an increased amount of pressure on the defense all season. I think we've seen flashes of this defense being really good, but when the unit is consistently on the field throughout games, it's tough to continue to play at such a high level. It will be easier to assess his progress on defense next season.

There are rumors USF might have more fans at the game. Understandable as you're probably not too fired up to play a team many of your fans might not know has their campus in Tampa. Is that a fair gauge of the enthusiasm of Gamecock fans about the program right now? Or is it just tough to motivate people for a lower-tier game over the holidays in not-so-scenic Birmingham?

The football program is just in a transition phase, but enthusiasm has been building especially with us playing in a bowl game. The Birmingham Bowl is not an attractive bowl and a mediocre, rebuilding year is never exciting by any means. A win in this game would serve as a huge turning point for the program and fan base.