Kurt Roper’s goal in his second season as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator won’t be to do more. It will be to do fewer things better. And to be sneakier about it.
“When we weren’t very good on offense, you do a lot of searching. ‘What’s going to make us better?’ And sometimes you add too much,” Roper said as the team prepared for its opening day of spring practice on Saturday. “When we went back and looked at ourselves offensively, we probably did too much rather than not enough.”
South Carolina was last in the SEC and 116th in the nation in scoring last season, averaging 20.8 points per game. It was next-to-last in the conference and 115th in the nation in yards, averaging 347.5 per game.
Roper’s offense will spend much of spring practice experimenting with formation flexibility, the area where it was most limited last year. That’s because it used young players and was in the first year of a new system.
“We are going to try to be more multiple this spring and see where we are,” Roper said. “The conversation we had with the players the other day is, ‘We have to be in year two. We can’t be in year one anymore.’ We have to understand all the little things offensively for us to grow.”
Having a more consistent lineup will help, particularly at quarterback, where sophomore Jake Bentley is expected to start after winning the job midway through last season.
“The biggest thing for any quarterback is it’s really a lot more to learn than they think it’s going to be when they get here,” Roper said. “It’s not just our system. It’s multiplied based on what defenses do, and every defense is different. You have to be able to apply our scheme to what a defense is doing and make decisions. He’s starting to understand what I’m talking about defensively.”
Bentley said he believes South Carolina’s bowl performance – 481 yards and 39 points in a loss to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl – is an indication that the offense is headed in the right direction and poised for a big jump in 2017.
“We have a lot of explosive players and we used them in some different ways in the bowl game and to be able to build on that is going to be fun,” Bentley said.
Along with their leading passer, the Gamecocks return their two leading rushers and their six leading receivers from a year ago. Those players “are thinking in our language now,” Roper said, which should help speed their progression.
“When you’re in year five, the conversations you have with your guys are on such a different level because you can always draw back to an experience,” Roper said. “Our guys didn’t have anything to draw back to. Everything was brand new.”
If year five represents 100 percent comprehension, does that mean coaches should expect 20 percent of growth per year? Roper hopes not.
“We need to be higher than 40 percent,” he said.