The first instinct for many is to blame the offensive line, and with South Carolina’s football team, that’s understandable.
The Gamecocks front has had its issues across the past three seasons. The loss to Georgia, which came before the storm-induced bye week the team is still waiting through, featured South Carolina’s offense sputtering. Coach Will Muschamp even said his team got flat-out whipped.
But when he went on his weekly call-in show, he sounded more satisfied with the group, especially in keeping quarterback Jake Bentley clean.
“We had one sack, and that was on a coverage sack where Jake had to scramble because they had good coverage down the field,” Muschamp said. “I thought we got a hat on a hat in protection. I thought we protected Jake extremely well.”
That makes some sense. All told, on 35 drop backs with the game somewhat in doubt, the Bulldogs only managed six true pressures and four other plays where they might’ve bothered Bentley a little.
But then there’s the running game, where USC got 3.6 yards a carry. After his harsh words about the front, by week’s end, he was laying the blame in a slightly different spot.
“In a lot of situations, got a hat on a hat in the run game,” Muschamp said. “Our backs have got to break a tackle. That’s what their guys did. There’s some things that we were pleased with obviously. We’re right at 200 yards at halftime against a really good defense.”
Muschamp pointed to the series of swings that took the game from a seven-point affair to 31 in a matter of 13 or so minutes. After a late drop and bad punt opened the door for a UGA field goal to close the half, the defense gave up three touchdown drives of 75 or more yards to start the second half (the Bulldogs averaged 11.2 yards per play in that stretch).
The offense didn’t help with a pair of three and outs, one where a third-down drop cost USC a possession and another where the Gamecocks couldn’t run for 1 yard on third down.
His team had hung close with the Bulldogs the previous two years, but at no point had the defense given up a burst like that.
“That to me, as much as anything, cost us the football game,” Muschamp said.