On the majority of South Carolina’s plays on the first drive against Appalachian State, the Gamecocks offense found itself outnumbered in the box. The Mountaineers on Saturday regularly left only one safety back, ensuring every gap was covered.
After the snap, the visitors to Williams-Brice Stadium seemed to whip their counterparts in garnet with regularity.
And that destabilized much of what South Carolina was hoping to do on offense.
With attrition at receiver and tight end, the Gamecocks are playing with a hand tied behind their backs. Their coach, Will Muschamp, admitted as much.
“We don’t have a second pitch,” Muschamp said. “We run it, create some things. We’ve got to be more efficient. We’ve got to be able to run the ball.”
On Saturday, his team had 24 non-sack runs. None of those plays were longer than 9 yards. Five of those carries gained 5 or more yards. Four of those came on the game’s opening drive, and one of those was actually a scramble off a called pass (and was the only run longer than 6 yards).
“It was a lot of stuff they did,” senior center Donell Stanley said. “They added on, green dogged us a lot, really just got us off our game, and then we didn’t execute the adjustments well.”
A “green dog” blitz is where a defender set to cover a player who pass blocks instead jumps in and joins the rush.
The Mountaineers overwhelmed the pin-and-pull sweep schemes USC had been relying on of late. The Gamecocks tried some zone runs, but were also playing from behind most of the night.
All that meant the Gamecocks’ passing game was again asked to do a lot and without some of the horses to do so.
For the third time this season, freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski was asked to throw 50 or more times (58) — South Carolina fell to 1-12 all-time when a QB throws that often. Hilinski showed some spark early and late, but the overall efficiency was again an issue.
The freshman was victimized by drops, with at least four or five. One came off the hands of freshman Xavier Legette, and the ensuing pick-six provided the winning margin.
He also didn’t have much help in terms of personnel. USC was without three of its top six wide receivers, plus missing No. 1 option Bryan Edwards for most of the first half and Chavis Dawkins for much of the game. It was also without its No. 2 tight end and its top running back Tavien Feaster, who is a good pass catcher.
“When we don’t have the ability right now, where we are offensively, to run the football, we’re going to struggle,” Muschamp said. “And it was evident of that. We had a bunch of drops, a drop for a pick-six touchdown. Ryan threw the ball well. It’s hard to rely on some things in the passing game right now. We’re just so inconsistent with personnel and different things that are obviously affecting our football team.”
Asked about the drops, Muschamp said players just have to catch balls they can get their hands on.
In terms of targets, rarely-used walk-on Trey Adkins got three; Dakereon Joyner, who has played mostly quarterback for more than a month, got four; emergency QB Jay Urich got two; and rarely-used Chad Terrell got two.
So the running game could get nothing moving, and the passing game was again the walking wounded. It was another rough day in a season of them for an offense beset by problems.
And the biggest one Saturday was a simple one that undercut the main thing this group has been able to hang its hat on.
“We got no push,” Muschamp said. “They outnumbered us in the box. We were inefficient throwing the football when we needed to early in the game.”