South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp said Friday morning he wasn’t going to delve into the specific tweaks and changes his offense will make going forward.
So the question lingers: What will a Bryan McClendon offense look like?
McClendon is a first-time offensive coordinator, someone who has called all of one game but learned under Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and Kurt Roper, the man who assembled USC’s last two offenses and was relieved of his duty after the regular season. There will be some changes, McClendon said, but probably not wholesale ones.
“There might be one or two things that you’ll see that will be noticeable,” said McClendon, who was promoted to the full-time role Friday. “I do think this, every coach right now is going through the same thing because you’re getting a brand new team. You’ve got guys leaving, new guys coming in. So the biggest challenge is trying to figure out where all the pieces fit right now.”
He came up in Georgia’s system that blended some pro-style, downhill running with a decent amount of shotgun. At USC, the Gamecocks have almost exclusively based their offense out of two-tight end or three-receiver shotgun looks, and his background coaching receivers and running backs offers little hint as to what direction he might go.
But he did make one promise.
“I think the only thing that we can do and I can promise you is that we’re going to play to our strengths,” McClendon said. “What those will be, I think time will tell.”
At the moment, those strengths appear to be a slew receivers and running backs, plus quarterback Jake Bentley. The Gamecocks’ set of pass catchers runs the range from tall and imposing (OrTre Smith, Bryan Edwards) to shifty and fast (Shi Smith) to a dynamic all-around play-maker (Deebo Samuel). The tight end spot loses some play-making with Hayden Hurst leaving, but the Gamecocks will have four returning running backs who saw time in the rotation (Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner, Ty’Son Williams, Mon Denson).
USC is set to lose senior interior linemen Alan Knott and Cory Helms, but return both tackles and have one reserve guard who got experience this season.
It’s not clear if the bowl shed some light on his approach, but McClendon did say it wasn’t a case of him simply emptying the playbook. USC deployed a few new flourishes, including a speed option run, a triple-option-esque run-pass option and went with an up-tempo approach for much of the game. The team also tweaked their protections after a rough first half and gave Bentley time to throw some of his better balls of the season.
On the topic of going faster, Muschamp noted, “You can’t freak out after a three and out.” USC had opened the bowl with seven three-and-outs in its first nine possessions.
Chances are, the offense won’t look all that different cosmetically, if only because most college offenses look pretty similar these days. But Muschamp said he asked McClendon for three things going into the bowl.
And apparently, he got what he wanted.
“I said to Bryan, ‘Listen, I just want to be balanced. I want to dictate the tempo of the game, and I want to be aggressive,’ ” Muschamp said.