South Carolina Gamecocks Must Forget Hype; Focus On Improving

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 08: Jake Bentley #19 of the South Carolina Gamecocks reacts after a play against the Georgia Bulldogs during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Lecka/Getty Images)

The nerves have settled a bit and the disappointed has begun to subside in Columbia. The South Carolina Gamecocks once again failed to deliver in a highly anticipated home game. The Georgia Bulldogs came to Williams-Brice stadium Saturday and showed the difference between a good team and an elite team.

Gamecocks Must Focus On Improving

Now Will Muschamp and company need to regroup and make sure one bad loss doesn’t hang over this team and derail the season. The season is not lost due to one bad performance. However, the questions that arose Saturday will not go away any time soon. For the third time in the last 13 games, the Gamecocks must forget about the failed hype and focus on improving.

Gamecocks Fight Against Hype

Big Moment, Big Disappointment

Last season it was the Kentucky and Clemson games; this season it was Georgia. The Gamecocks came into another home contest with anticipation and positive momentum only to crash and burn. For all the good Muschamp has done early in his tenure in Columbia, handling expectations has yet to happen. South Carolina has fared much better the last two seasons when they were under the radar.

They must find a way to play better under the spotlight if they want to compete for championships. Muschamp’s team now has a few weeks to regroup and improve before their next big test. Righting the ship by beating Marshall and Vanderbilt is now necessary, but it also won’t mean much if they can’t face the pressure of ending a four game losing streak to Kentucky. The Wildcats are fresh off a program infusing victory against Florida, famously ending a 31-year drought in that series.

Where’s The Attack?

It was said during the off season that the Gamecocks were changing their mentality on offense. ‘Aggressive and attacking’ was the promise. There was talk about the tempo of the offense, speeding things up to get more plays and keeping the opponent off balance. The aggressive and attacking play that was promoted has yet to materialize. Down 41-10 in the fourth quarter Saturday, Jake Bentley found Bryan Edwards for a 44 yard touchdown pass. It was the first pass of more than 15 yards all game. With the depth and talent at the skill positions in garnet and black, it makes no sense to go three quarters in a big game without challenging the defense vertically.

The same complaint was made last season about Kurt Roper’s offense. They were not creative enough and rarely attacking downfield. Bryan McClendon is now the offensive coordinator, and things have not changed. At what point is the lack of attacking downfield in the pass game more due to quarterback deficiencies than the offensive coordinator? It is one issue if the downfield passing game is not being utilized by the play caller, but if it is an unwillingness to attempt those throws by Bentley, that is a completely different problem.

Whatever the reason, the Gamecocks need to find ways to attack downfield. The coaches said Edwards makes 50/50 balls more like 70/30 with his athleticism and ability. Somehow, South Carolina hasn’t utilized him in one on one match-ups down the field. As good as Deebo Samuel and Shi Smith are in space, they will not be able to find openings if South Carolina isn’t willing to test the defense over the top.

Abandonment Issues

In hindsight, opening agianst Georgia with five wide-outs, attempting to open the passing game early was a questionable decision. That plan could have worked if the execution was better. The Gamecocks were plagued early with dropped passes, which is not common for this group at the skill positions. The drops led to both a pick-six by the Bulldogs and a few drives stalling on third down. South Carolina was down two scores early, but were able to fight their way back before the half.

Despite closing the gap, the Gamecocks completely abandoned the running game before ever giving it a chance. There has to be more of an emphasis on running the football, and a certain stubbornness to continue even if it doesn’t work at first. Winning big games against top tier opponents is rarely possible if your offense is one dimensional.

Rico Dowdle had a bad game versus Georgia, but he has proven he is a talented back. Tyson Williams is still working on his consistency but has also shown the ability to make plays. A.J. Turner has not gotten many opportunities this season. He was their most consistent tailback a season ago. All three backs need the carries to showcase what they can do. If the run game is abandoned early, none of them can be effective. The Gamecocks can’t afford to quit on trying to run the ball so early in big games.

Line Of Scrimmage

The offensive line has improved since last season, but still needs to show more toughness at the point of attack. In the loss to Kentucky last season, the Gamecocks failed to win the physical battles. The games with Clemson last year and Georgia on Saturday, the line played well. There is still another level to reach in order to be the dominant force needed to win big. However, they were not the weak link holding the offense back. Competing for championships usually is determined by what teams can control the line of scrimmage. The Gamecocks still have a ways to go in that regard. They also need to have the mentality needed to keep fighting in the trenches for 60 minutes.

Not a One Game Season

As disappointing as Saturday’s loss was, it is not the end of the season. The Gamecocks still have a lot of football left to play. As mentioned before the 2018 campaign kicked off, catching up to Georgia and Clemson were not the most attainable goals. South Carolina will be as talented or more so than most of their opponents the rest of the year. They have their problems to address, and will need to begin to play with better focus and consistency.

These issues are fixable and the Gamecocks still have the talent to succeed. Muschamp now has to regroup his team. How they respond from this disappointment will be a big key to how this season and beyond go in terms of building this program. One thing is for sure, after this latest letdown, South Carolina needs to focus on improving, and leave all the hype alone.

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