While the offense was lackluster at times, South Carolina's defense and special teams came to play, especially in the second half of the team's 35-14 win over Georgia State.
Freshman defensive back DQ Smith became the first Gamecock since Derek Watson in 2000 to return a blocked punt for a touchdown and was joined by senior Ahmarean Brown who accomplished the same feat shortly after.
Smith, who made his collegiate debut, said it was a surreal moment as a Palmetto State native to make a big play in his hometown. The true freshman credited special teams coordinator Pete Lembo for allowing the team to have fun on special teams.
"You know, we spend so much time on it, it's almost like we have to, coach Lembo does a great job," Smith said. "For me to be on that unit — on multiple units with special teams — is absolutely a blessing. So it's kind of like we expect to be good with how much time we put into it."
Fifth-year wide reciever Jalen Brooks also praised the staff, echoing that head coach Shane Beamer and associate coach Pete Lembo have changed the culture around special teams and the way players view it.
"That's something that coach Lembo and coach Beamer has integrated into our staff and the whole team, to where we want to be on special teams and it's not like you have to do it now," Brooks said. "We want to go out there and make those plays, but they have done such a great job of making the special teams a huge priority within this program."
Redshirt junior defensive back Marcellas Dial had the best individual performance on defense, collecting three pass breakups, three tackles and an interception. Meanwhile, true freshman defensive back Nick Emmanwori had a quiet but memorable debut with three tackles and a pass breakup of his own.
South Carolina held Georgia State to 164 yards in the second half, forcing four punts and allowing just eight first downs. Despite running 10 more plays than the Gamecocks, the Panthers scored just seven points and converted on third down only three times.
After competing against Georgia State's run-first offense, the defense will be able to further test itself against the passing game when the team travels to Arkansas next weekend for its first SEC match of the year.