South Carolina averaged 1.1 rushing yards per carry against Mississippi State. Starting Gamecocks running A.J. Turner is 5 feet, 10 inches tall.
That means South Carolina could have gained nearly twice as many yards if Turner had simply fallen forward from the line of scrimmage on every rushing attempt. That’s the state of the Gamecocks ground game.
“We got whipped,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp summarized. “That’s the hard part. I don’t know that it was schematically or execution when you get physically whipped at the point of attack, that’s a hard one to swallow. We need to go back and work on some different looks that we feel like can help us moving forward. We’ll go with those Saturday, but we need to be better at the point of attack.”
After two games, the Gamecocks (1-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) are last in the SEC and 124th in the nation in rushing offense (77.5 yards per game). They are last in the SEC and 125th in the nation in yards per carry (2.46). Seventy-nine players in the country average more rushing yards per game than South Carolina as a group.
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“We have to be able to create more things in the run game,” Muschamp said.
That fact alone could open the door for freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain to start against East Carolina on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium. Muschamp would not commit to a starting quarterback during his Tuesday news conference, but McIlwain is more mobile than senior Perry Orth, who has started and looked like the better quarterback overall through the first two games.
“Quarterback legs, whatever it is, we have to create more things in the run game to be able to create some things explosively for us down the field,” Muschamp said after his team gained 34 yards on the ground in a 27-14 loss to Mississippi State.
South Carolina rushed for 7 yards in the first half of that game.
“Every day they talk to us about the running game,” offensive lineman D.J. Park said. “It has to be better. You can’t start off the game with 7 yards rushing, you can’t do it.”
Nobody escapes blame in the running game’s failings, but the bulk of the responsibility is falling on the offensive line at the moment.
“It’s hard going into the line of scrimmage and having people run at you, but I think we are going to work on that this week and make sure everybody knows what they are doing as far as their assignment and making sure everybody is blocked,” Turner said.
Running backs coach Bobby Bentley has pointed out some of running backs’ failings as well, backup Rod Talley said. Bentley believes his backs are “a little bit overeager,” Talley said.
“We just have to stay patient, take our correct steps and read it out, don’t be in a hurry,” Talley said. “Just stay more patient and once we see something, then be decisive.”
Jacob August even volunteered the tight ends for their share of the blame.
“We set the point of attack on a few plays, and when we don’t screw up, we tend to do better in the run game. It runs a lot on us,” he said. “We need to get a lot better at it. We have been a lot more physical in practice. The emphasis is definitely there.”
Turner leads the Gamecocks in rushing with 51 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The team’s second- and third-leading rushers are McIlwain and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Talley and junior David Williams, the only running backs other than Turner to touch the ball this season, have combined for six carries and 9 yards.
“We just have to play better football,” Turner said. “We have to be better with our assignments and fundamentals. It’s not just them, some of it is my fault. It was a group thing. We were too antsy. Coach Muschamp was stressing physicality, making sure we were being physical. We are going to work on everything.”
The Gamecocks have rushed for 155 yards while opponents have gained 459 yards on the ground. A breakdown:
Where USC’s rushing ranks in the SEC:
2. Miss. State
3. Texas A&M
12. Ole Miss
14. South Carolina
Who: ECU (2-0) at USC (1-1)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network / Radio: 107.5 FM