Josh Kendall

Slow-starting South Carolina seeking first-half fix

When South Carolina’s football team reconvened Sunday in Columbia following Saturday’s 27-14 loss to Mississippi State, head coach Will Muschamp had a question for his players.

“We asked the guys, ‘What was it? Was it something on the trip? Something we ate?’ ” Muschamp said. “Tell us.”

Muschamp was searching for answers about why his team came out flat for a second straight game. The Gamecocks have been outscored a combined 34-0 by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in the first half of their two games this season.

“We couldn’t give him a lot of answers,” junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said.

The Gamecocks (1-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) need to find those answers before Saturday when they host East Carolina at 4 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium in the first home game of the season.

“I believe a home game is just the kick in the butt we need to get ourselves going,” offensive lineman D.J. Park said.

Muschamp is looking for a more comprehensive fix to the problem, though. He and his staff reviewed all the team’s pregame routines Sunday but have decided the problem is what’s happening after the kickoff rather than before it.

“We’ve really discussed that a lot,” he said. “Everything from what we’re doing during the day to night games and not playing extremely well on the offensive side of the ball. We felt like it was more execution, putting our guys in better spots to be successful, and that’s on us as coaches.”

South Carolina rallied to erase its first deficit and beat Vanderbilt but could not climb out of the hole it created against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks are one of nine teams in the country without a first half point. They have been outgained 431 to 147 in the first 30 minutes of games this year, and 10 of their 14 first half possessions have failed to gain more than 10 yards.

“We all see it,” offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “That’s our biggest goal right now, when we get out there, it’s time to go. Don’t wait for later.”

The defense is not blameless either. Muschamp called his defense “lifeless” in the first half against Mississippi State, and South Carolina’s average of 17 points surrendered in the first half ranks 83rd in the nation.

“It really just comes down on the players, how they approach everything,” defensive end Dante Sawyer said. “The coaches bring a great energy; they bring everything to the table. We have to respond as players to the coaches.”

This is not a new problem for the Gamecocks. They have not led a game at halftime since the Independence Bowl to end the 2014 season, a string of 14 games.

“We just have to start fast. That’s the bottom line,” Zandi said. “We have to hit the practice field fast. In the meeting room, we have to be fast. Come to the building with enthusiasm and excitement to get things done.”

Senior linebacker T.J. Holloman attributed this year’s issues to focus. The Gamecocks have been flagged for 13 penalties this season. Ten of those have come in the first half.

“We have been practicing too hard and too long to go out there and lay an egg like that on the field,” Allen-Williams said. “It was disappointing, but we’re ready to move on.”

Slow starters

USC has not led at the half since the Independence Bowl in 2014:

2015

Date

Halftime Score

Sept. 3

UNC 13, USC 10

Sept. 12

Kentucky 24, USC 7

Sept. 19

Georgia 24, USC 13

Sept. 26

UCF 14, USC 8

Oct. 3

Missouri 17, USC 10

Oct. 10

LSU 17, USC 10

Oct. 17

Vandy 7, USC 6

Oct. 31

Texas A&M 21, USC 21

Nov. 7

Tennessee 17, USC 3

Nov. 14

Florida 14, USC 0

Nov. 21

Citadel 14, USC 9

Nov. 28

Clemson 14, USC 3

2016

Date

Halftime Score

Sept. 1

Vandy 10, USC 0

Sept. 10

Miss. State 24, USC 0

Game info

Who: ECU (2-0) at USC (1-1)

When: 4 p.m., Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Network / Radio: 107.5 FM

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