South Carolina is dead last among Division I football teams in red zone touchdown percentage, and there is plenty of blame to go around.
The Gamecocks have made 21 trips to the red zone and have scored only six touchdowns. USC is putting the ball in the end zone on less than 29 percent of its drives that reach the opponent’s 20-yard line. To put that in perspective, USC’s opponents have scored touchdowns on 62 percent of their red zone trips.
So what has gone wrong for South Carolina in the red zone? In short, a lot.
The Gamecocks are averaging 5.6 yards per play on the season, but in the red zone that number drops to 2.1. Carolina has taken 68 snaps in the red zone and gained only 144 yards.
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“You’ve got to execute. Down in the red zone you’ve got to execute, and that’s kind of the home of playmakers,” USC offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus said. “Once you get down in there, playmakers are the ones that show up in that area, and we’ve got to make plays.”
USC has been abysmal at running the ball in the red zone. The Gamecocks have 43 rushing attempts for 101yards inside the 20, an average of 2.3 yards per carry.
21 Red-zone trips have led to six touchdowns, 11 field goals, three missed field goals, one turnover on downs
Brandon Wilds has 11 carries for 37 yards, while David Williams, who shouldered the load while Wilds missed three games, has 10 carries for only six yards. Quarterbacks haven’t fared any better as Perry Orth, Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez have totaled 17 carries for 46 yards.
South Carolina’s offensive line has struggled to get a consistent push for much of the season, and interim coach Shawn Elliott said that has to change.
“You have to be able to block,” he said. “Sometimes we got pushed around. We’ll address those things and make sure our red zone situation is a lot better.”
Carolina has been just as bad, if not worse, in the passing game in the red zone.
The Gamecocks have attempted 25 passes and completed only seven (28 percent). Carolina has thrown for a total of 43 yards in the red zone, while starting quarterback Perry Orth is 3-for-13 for 11 yards.
2.3 Yards per carry (43 carries for 101 yards and three TDs)
Last Saturday against Vanderbilt, Orth missed an open receiver in the end zone that would have been a touchdown. However, he also hit star Pharoh Cooper on a slant in the end zone and Cooper dropped the ball.
“We have to start with catching the ball. If we’d catch the ball in the red zone, we wouldn’t be having problems… And throw the ball to the guys,” Mangus said. “We’ve got to execute better.”
Walk-on tight end Jacob August leads the Gamecocks in receiving yards in the red zone with two catches for 20 yards. Cooper has three catches for 11 yards.
Orth, Nunez and Mitch have USC’s rushing touchdowns inside the 20, while Nunez has two passing touchdowns and Mitch has one. Cooper, August and running back Shon Carson have receiving touchdowns.
Carolina’s struggles have been particularly noticeable in recent weeks. Since facing Georgia on Sept. 19, South Carolina has 11 trips to the red zone with seven field goals, two missed field goals and two touchdowns. In four trips to the red zone last week against Vandy, Carolina kicked three field goals and missed a field goal.
1.7 Yards per passing play (7-for-25 for 43 yards and three TDs)
Elliott said the Gamecocks spent extra time during the bye week trying to figure out ways to fix the issues.
“We had an opportunity to go back and look and say, ‘Hey, why wasn’t it successful? Was it personnel? Was it guys not making plays? Was it execution? Or was it a play?’” he said. “We went back and looked at that and made some decisions. We had to spend a little bit more extra time on it.”
One possible solution is getting Cooper more involved. South Carolina’s unquestioned best offensive weapon has 14 carries for 88 yards, but only one rushing attempt in the red zone. He also has thrown a pass and caught three passes.
“We haven’t executed in the red zone,” Cooper said. “We dropped two touchdowns passes last week that should have been caught. We’ll catch the ball in the open field, but we’ll drop it in the red zone, and we can’t do that. We have to be better at that.”
Gamecocks vs. Aggies
Who: South Carolina (3-4, 1-4 SEC) at Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2)
Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
When: Noon, Saturday
TV: SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M by 15
More South Carolina red zone numbers:
6: Yards rushing for David Williams on 10 red-zone carries; Brandon Wilds has 11 carries for 37 yards
11: Yards passing for Perry Orth (3-for-13)
20: Receiving yards for walk-on TE Jacob August on 2 catches