David Cloninger

Gamecocks’ offense resembles the bad ol’ days

Under Lou Holtz, the 1999 Gamecocks were 0-11 and averaged 7.9 points per game.
Under Lou Holtz, the 1999 Gamecocks were 0-11 and averaged 7.9 points per game. File photo

They’ve already won two games, two more than that team.

Yet the 2016 South Carolina Gamecocks are drawing comparisons to the 1999 South Carolina Gamecocks, and that isn’t a good thing.

“I think we’re improving, certainly not where we were, thank goodness,” coach Will Muschamp said. “But not where we need to be.”

USC is hoping to jump-start its offense against Georgia with the return of quarterback Perry Orth, who performed well in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M after Brandon McIlwain couldn’t get out of the starting blocks in the first three periods. Receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards returning from injury should help.

The first five games have resembled that ’99 team, though, in terms of injuries and offensive stagnation. Like this year’s team, that team had a first-year coach who couldn’t field a stable lineup because of injuries, and rotated quarterbacks trying to find an answer that never came.

Remember?

▪  Lou Holtz started quarterback Phil Petty until he was hurt, then replaced him with Mikal Goodman and Kevin Sides. Kyle Crabb, Josh Rogers and Carlos Spikes also took turns as backup QBs.

▪  The Gamecocks had the same offensive line in games 1-2, 5-6 and 10-11. Otherwise, injuries shuffled the line to the tune of 14 different starters throughout the season.

▪  USC scored 87 points for the season (7.9 points per game). That was the worst total in the SEC by a whopping 136 points, and the Gamecocks’ 228.6 yards per game was last by nearly 70 yards.

Like this year, the 1999 Gamecocks had a ferocious defense. They finished fifth in the league, allowing 307.7 yards per game, but got zero help from the offense.

USC managed double figure scores in five of 11 games, and three of those were 10 points each. It scored a season-high 21 against Clemson, but also suffered two shutouts.

This year, it’s not as bad, although the Gamecocks are last in the SEC in scoring (14 points per game) and total offense (301.8 yards). They average 16.4 first downs per game (13.2 in 1999), haven’t been shut out and haven’t been as injury-pocked as Holtz’s first team was.

But “frustrating” has become the buzzword, spoken by Muschamp and several others about his first team. The Gamecocks’ big plays, such as A.J. Turner’s 75-yard touchdown scamper on the first snap against A&M, are dwarfed by run after run into the middle of the line for no gain.

McIlwain’s solid first start against East Carolina begat two poor performances. Not having his best receivers available played into that, but much of it was McIlwain not trusting himself to throw the ball. Orth had no such problems, but while he moved the team downfield against the Aggies, he couldn’t get the Gamecocks in the end zone.

“We had some things dialed up in Lexington that didn’t hit,” Muschamp said. “We lacked explosive plays. We had a couple situations the other night where we didn’t get shots down the field. We didn’t get two of them off.”

USC finished 1999 at 0-11, stretching its losing streak to 21. This year’s Gamecocks won’t have to worry about anything like that.

But the boos and hands smacking onto foreheads after another three-and-out resemble that lost year of 1999, with the future looking promising but further and further away.

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