COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina hoped to be facing more positive challenges during its off week, not correcting problems the coaching staff believed had been already fixed before the season began.
The Gamecocks (3-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) expected improved quarterback play, sure-handed receivers and a stronger run game than the first two years under coach Will Muschamp. Instead, South Carolina have not consistent play from some of its veterans, including junior quarterback Jake Bentley.
"Those are the frustrating things to overcome for us right now," Muschamp said.
Bentley's inconsistent play has been at the top of the list. He had just 9 yards passing in the opening half at No. 14 Kentucky as the Gamecocks fell behind 24-3, a game they would lose 24-10.
Last week against Texas A&M, Bentley again had a poor opening half with just 46 yards passing as the Aggies went up 16-0 at halftime. Bentley rebounded with 187 yards and three passing TDs the final two quarters, but Texas A&M held on 26-23.
Bentley's stats were not helped by first-half drops by receivers Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel, both all-SEC candidates when the year began.
And South Carolina's ground game is near the bottom of the SEC, 13th out of 14 teams at 153 yards a game.
It's left the Gamecocks questioning what happened to a season of promise after last year's breakthrough 9-4 season.
"We've just got to keep fighting in close situations when it gets tough," defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw said. "We've got to keep on doing what we do. Keep being physical and everything else will take care of itself."
Muschamp said the team has hurt itself with mistakes and turnovers. The Gamecocks made eight turnovers in losses to ranked opponents Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
Normally sure-handed receivers like Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards have had several drops this season, short-circuiting Gamecocks drives.
"Very surprised," Muschamp said when asked if he imagined those players dropping balls.
Muschamp will combine rest and fundamentals during the Gamecocks week off. He gave the game a couple of days free during after the Texas A&M loss. They held physical, back-to-basics practices this week before getting a couple of more days off. They'll start preparations for their Oct. 27 game with Tennessee
Bentley heard a few boos at home this past Saturday during his poor opening half. He did not let it discourage him.
"It was disappointing to hear that from our fans," he said. "But they just want to win, too, and so do I."
Bentley said the goal of the bye week is to get healthy and get players' minds right for the stretch run. The Gamecocks expect to get starting defensive end D.J. Wonnum, out since the opening game with an ankle injury, back for Tennessee.
"It's going to be strictly about us and what we have to do to win football games," Bentley said.
South Carolina has made strides after the break under Muschamp the past two years.
Bentley was expected to redshirt two seasons ago when Muschamp gave him his first college start after the Gamecocks' bye week. Bentley led 2-4 South Carolina to an upset of ranked Tennessee and a bowl berth after taking over as starter.
Last year, South Carolina won four of its final six games after the break, including a dramatic, 26-19 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl after trailing 19-3 with 20 minutes left.
"It's been tough. It hasn't been easy," Bentley said. "But I have unbelievable teammates. There's a long season ahead and we're going to keep fighting. No one on this team is going to point fingers."
The quarterback added, "There's a bye week to get better than on to Tennessee."
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