South Carolina’s offense, in particular quarterback Jake Bentley, is receiving a lot of preseason hype. The Gamecocks are going to be dangerous with the ball, they say.
They need to be. Because they have to be.
Will Muschamp’s forte is defense, and I have no doubt he’ll cobble something together throughout 2017, but going into the season, there’s not a lot proven on that side of the ball. Kurt Roper’s offense, with skill positions that could be among the best in the SEC, will have to help that defense, and do it early.
That requires two things. One, the offensive line has to be solid from the start and allow Bentley room to operate, finding a trio of pass-catchers that’s the best overall unit in the league (Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards, tight end Hayden Hurst). If that line, which had its struggles last year and has moved its best prospect (Zack Bailey) to a new position, doesn’t keep Bentley on his feet or doesn’t open holes for Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams, Roper won’t have a chance to do the second thing: score a lot.
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Roper has to allow his offense to move up and down the field. Quick strikes, deep passes, constant tempo, score as much as possible. There can be none of the patient, conservative approach that – by necessity – has hovered over Roper’s last two offenses.
The Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator had no trouble airing out the ball when he was at Duke. The Blue Devils were churning Popeye numbers at a rate they hadn’t since The Visored One was there.
But when Roper joined Muschamp at Florida, the approach couldn’t work. He stepped into an offense that was built to run the ball and had gone through a rash of quarterback attrition. He had to play the hand he was dealt and the result was a pair of threes.
Same thing happened at USC last year. Roper had three quarterbacks. Once Bentley took over, he didn’t want to throw too much at the kid because he had to consider Bentley’s immense promise. Then he had to add in players he hadn’t fully had in the first part of the season – Dowdle, Deebo, etc.
I believe there were some dynamic plays dialed up on first down last year, and if they didn’t work, USC decided to cut its losses and run the ball twice. Maybe it picks up a first down and a do-over, maybe it’s a punt, but the defense was doing OK at preventing points.
This year, the defense features the return of Skai Moore, a colossal benefit. Bryson Allen-Williams will be counted on to turn the tide of some games. Perhaps the ratings of freshman Jamyest Williams pay off in an all-SEC season.
Other than that? Reference “pair of threes,” a few paragraphs ago.
Again, I have no doubt Muschamp will find a solution. The man knows defense and he’s not going to be too stubborn to change his preferred alignment for one that might work better. Problem is, it may take some time to gel and the Gamecocks have no room for error, playing NC State out of the gate and on the road in Week 2.
The offense is the proven commodity. As long as the line holds up, USC has the potential to knock opponents on their heels and put up enough points so the Gamecocks’ defense doesn’t have to be at its best right away. Let the other team play catch-up, instead of USC’s offense doing the same and then hoping the defense can get one stop so the offense can turn that into an opponent deficit.
Patience is a virtue, and often the only option last year.
This year, it’s a virtue the Gamecocks can’t have.
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Best trio in the SEC
A look at USC’s trio of pass-catchers that is rated the best overall unit in the SEC by ESPN, which said: “Yes, it has to look funny to have an offensive group from a Will Muschamp-coached team getting this much love, but you just can't ignore the numbers.” A look at their 2016 numbers:
6-0, 208, Junior
59 catches, 783 yards, 1 TD
6-3, 210, Sophomore
44 catches, 590 yards, 4 TDs
6-5, 250, Junior
48 catches, 616 yards, 1 TD