Apparently, it’s exactly as fun as it looks for South Carolina’s running backs to run into a line of scrimmage stacked with defenders.
“It’s not fun,” Gamecocks junior tailback Rod Talley confirmed.
Talley, starting running back A.J. Turner, and on occasion quarterbacks Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain found very little room was made by their offensive line last week against Mississippi State.
“But those guys are playing their hearts out,” Talley said. “They are practicing hard just like we are. We believe in them. We have faith in them. Things are going to get better for us.”
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They have to soon if the Gamecocks (1-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) expect to play .500 football or better this season. While South Carolina’s running game struggles don’t fall entirely at the feet of the Gamecocks offensive line, senior left tackle Mason Zandi is willing to take all the blame.
“It starts up front, and I have to take responsibility for that,” Zandi said.
South Carolina’s line was supposed to be the strength of the offense this year. It entered the season with three upperclassmen and three former four-star prospects among the starters. Through two weeks, it has surrendered 17 tackles-for-loss, which ranks 12th in the SEC and 114th in the country.
Zandi blamed communication issues for many of the problems against Mississippi State, but declined to blame those issues on the juggling necessitated by injuries to tackle Blake Camper and guard Donnell Stanley.
“We had a couple shifts and motions we didn’t take into account,” Zandi said. “As a fifth-year guy on the offensive line, I let everybody down not letting that be known. We can’t let (injuries affect communication). It shouldn’t. We all practice together. We are all in the same meetings together. Communication has to be key. We can’t let one man going down affect the rest of us.”
South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott hasn’t been made available to speak to the media this season. He declined interviews during his one scheduled preseason appearance.
The Gamecocks are going to simplify some of their approach along the line to help their linemen, Muschamp said.
“I think offensively we’re going to scale back a little bit to make sure that we're getting the reps and the turns and the looks at the fronts in practice to execute a little better,” he said. “We've got to play a little better at the point of attack. I think it's a combination of both.”
The Gamecocks didn’t allow a sack against Vanderbilt in the season-opener but gave up four for 33 yards against Mississippi State. They are also last in the SEC in rushing (77.5 yards per game).
Complicating South Carolina’s attempts to improve up front are the ankle injuries suffered by Camper and Stanley, who have each started a game this year. Both are projected to be out until at least the Oct. 22 game against UMass due to high ankle sprains. That leaves the Gamecocks with Zandi and Park at tackle and Zack Bailey, Corey Helms and Alan Knott at guard or center and no one else along the offensive line with any appreciable experience. Sophomore Malik Young is ready to play at tackle, and freshman walk-on Chandler Farrell could be used at center, Muschamp said.
Junior tackle D.J. Park said Young is ready to step in if needed.
“He knows he can do it,” Park said. “He’s just waiting on his chance.”
Trey Derouen and Christian Pellage are ready to play at guard, Bailey said, but it’s going to be up to South Carolina’s first five if the Gamecocks are going to get things turned around up front.
“We went back and watched film on Sunday and watched what we did wrong, just silly mistakes and stuff we can correct. It’s minor but it came up big in the end,” Bailey said. “Definitely, it drives us crazy, just the little things.
“We want to start bullying people. That’s our main goal.”
Who: ECU (2-0) at USC (1-1)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network / Radio: 107.5 FM