South Carolina’s offense needs to be near-perfect if it’s going to win Saturday’s Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
What else is new?
The Gamecocks’ defense was so full of holes this year that Dylan Thompson and company knew they needed to score every time they touched the ball. With Miami bringing tailback Duke Johnson and strong-armed freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to Shreveport, the USC offense’s approach hasn’t changed.
The problem is, Miami’s not all offense.
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The Hurricanes finished the regular season ranked 14th in the country in total defense, allowing 327.6 yards per game. Teams found it difficult to pass on Miami as the ’Canes allowed 184.1 yards per game in the air.
With few sacks (25) and interceptions (10), maybe it was opponents figuring out the ’Canes didn’t stop the run as well, so they took the air out of the game and handed off. That plan would give the Gamecocks a strong advantage.
Yet the Gamecocks have known they can run all season and didn’t do it in crucial times. While they still have a stable of tailbacks, to think Thompson won’t throw and throw a lot after setting a single-season passing yardage record is silly.
“We’ll have to be on point, but he prepares like he always has,” quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said of Thompson.
The Gamecocks are hurting on the offensive line. Right guard Cody Waldrop’s knee flared up again after the first two days of bowl practice and making him questionable. Right tackle Brandon Shell also missed three days of practice with a shoulder injury, leaving USC with sparse depth. D.J. Park is out of the game due to academics, and Mason Zandi is backing up Shell and left tackle Corey Robinson. The Hurricanes’ pass-rushers are no doubt noticing and also seeing how Thompson has made some ill-fated decisions while trying to keep a passing play alive.
USC can combat that with a steady running game. Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams are fully healthy. “I think we’ll be able to run the ball with the guys we got and the line we got up front,” Carson said.
Miami allows 143.5 rushing yards per game, but in the Hurricanes’ losses, the theme was that the opponents heavily ran. Teams that were expected to run – Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Pitt – did so to great success. Even Virginia posted 195 rushing yards on Miami.
“They run a lot of three-down fronts, odd fronts,” Wilds said. “I know (Denzel Perryman) is a big linebacker, so we’re ready for him.”
Clemson and Florida each finished above Miami in total defense. The Gamecocks struggled to move the ball against each opponent, although they beat the Gators and finished the regular season with 281.4 passing yards per game. The passing game has flourished at times, as has the running game. Nearly everything on offense has worked all season.
With only one game to play, and Steve Spurrier’s record of non-losing seasons at USC hinging on it, it needs to work one more time.