The Gamecocks pulled out a win on Saturday in the most dramatic fashion. They rallied from being down 13-0 in the fourth quarter to steal a win over Louisiana Tech in the final seconds. Despite how exciting the ending was, it doesn’t negate the offensive struggles of this team. South Carolina has only managed 30 points in its last two ballgames. That is simply not good enough.
Like most problems in life, there is not one clear cut cause, nor is there one clear cut answer. The Gamecocks offensive struggles are due to a number of factors. If Coach Will Muschamp’s team wants to keep progressing and have a good season, there are multiple things to address. They currently rank 118th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 98th in scoring.
Dissecting the Offensive Struggles
Looking at the Gamecocks’ run game can be a case of is the glass half full or half empty. Through four games, South Carolina has had two solid performances on the ground and two anemic ones.
A simple answer is that Ty’Son Williams has 173 yards at 6.4 per carry in two games, but hasn’t gotten a carry in the other two contests. The situation is deeper than that though. Rico Dowdle has not been the same player he was a year ago. The sophomore tailback has reportedly been hampered by a thigh issue. It is also possible that his bulking up in the off-season has caused an adjustment period for him to get used to carrying the extra weight. He showed flashes of his talent last year and needs to get back to that hard nosed running. A.J. Turner is yet to get the edge on a play and show how his burst for a big gainer.
The offensive line has also had its struggles. After playing solid, although not great, in the first two games, they’ve taken a step back. Penalties hurt them against the Kentucky Wildcats. False starts can crush momentum, and they put the offense at a disadvantage in terms of the plan of attack. The Gamecocks also struggled at the point of attack on short yardage runs in their lone loss of the year. They were stopped on 3rd or 4th and short four times against Kentucky, including turning it over on downs inside the two yard line. Games are often won in the trenches. South Carolina has shown an inability to control that area.
This is the old stand by for fans complaints. “The play calling is terrible, fire the coordinator!” While there is room for improvement in game-planning and play-calling, execution at critical times is much more of an problem. However in the loss to Kentucky, there were definite play calling issues. Those issues were magnified by the fact that the Wildcats’ play-caller had a brilliant night on the other sideline. The Gamecocks have struggled creating explosive plays this season. Before the last game, they had only attempted a handful of passes longer than 15 yards downfield. It does appear that a lack of creativity and subsequent predictability has hampered them this season.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has taken a lot of heat for his play-calling early in the year. His game plan to grind out a victory against a fast paced Missouri team was executed perfectly. Runs in the first half that went for two or three yards, turned into six and seven yard runs as the Gamecocks wore down the defense. After a bad game calling the shots in the week three loss, Roper again called a pretty good game this past weekend. South Carolina moved the ball on each of its drives, but missed field goals and turnovers thwarted scoring chances until late. Roper is still learning how to best use his young skill talent. It is important to remember that the top four receivers, top three running backs, and the quarterback are all first or second year players.
While the stats look favorable, the passing game has also yet to hit full throttle. Quarterback Jake Bentley has been inconsistent to start games, whether it is overthrowing his wide-outs, or just missing open teammates. He has managed to settle down each game and find a rhythm. He can be a streaky passer, struggling to find a groove at times, but he is also capable of compiling consecutive completions and getting the things running smoothly. The inconsistencies have hurt the Gamecocks most on third down. They need to improve on converting those third downs to keep drives going, especially in the red zone. South Carolina is converting 45% on third downs this season, but were just 3-12 and had six three and outs in their lone loss.
Now that star Deebo Samuel is out, Bentley will be relying on a very young receiving corps. Freshman OrTre Smith has three catches in four games, but two of those went for touchdowns. Bryan Edwards will likely see the biggest jump in production in Samuel’s absence. The second year man from Conway, SC had six catches for 122 yards against Louisiana Tech. He made a leaping grab over a defender for 41 yards to set up the game winning field goal in the final seconds.
Getting veteran tight ends Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby more involved will also need to be a priority. The Gamecocks have struggled with consistency and finding big gains in the pass game. They were able to make the clutch plays needed in the fourth quarter in this past Saturday’s comeback win, but need to attack the defense downfield more often early in games.
You can’t blame South Carolina fans for being disappointed and upset with the kicking game. For over a decade of they hardly had to worry about it. The reliability of Elliot Fry, Spencer Lanning, and Ryan Succop made the kicking game an afterthought. Times have changed though. Adding to their offensive struggles, the Gamecocks have left 16 points on the field in the last two weeks. For the season, they are just 2-8 on field goals. Parker White made the game winning kick on Saturday after missing his previous two. That could build his confidence up and he may become more consistent. If it doesn’t, more missed kicks will continue to hurt an offense already struggling to score.
There is Still Hope
With the exception of the loss to Kentucky, the Gamecocks offense has shown positive signs in every game. Avoiding turnover and penalties will be key to reversing the offensive struggles moving forward. This young team needs to continue to grow and find more consistency. Improving in the red zone is also a point of emphasis.With the kicking game not being as reliable, finishing off positive drives with touchdowns becomes more important. With a stretch of six straight SEC games coming up, correcting these issues is paramount to Will Muschamp and staff.