Josh Kendall

It’s too early to put offensive woes at feet of Muschamp, Roper

The moment that has been coming since Will Muschamp hired Kurt Roper has arrived.

Muschamp was fired after four years at Florida because his offenses were bad, so bad at times that they became a kind of college football punch line. Roper was Muschamp’s offensive coordinator in 2014, Muschamp’s final year with the Gators. So when Muschamp hired Roper in December to coordinator South Carolina’s offense, he opened up the door for the, “These guys are offense killers” crowd to have a heyday.

Muschamp is smart enough to know this.

And he’s stubborn enough not to care.

Muschamp believes Roper is a very good offensive coach. Pretty much everybody who’s met Roper believes he’s a good offensive coach. I believe Roper is a good offensive coach, but why listen to me when you can take Connor Shaw’s word for it.

“He’s one of the most brilliant offensive minds I’ve ever been around,” said Shaw, who worked with Roper when both were employed by the Cleveland Browns. “He understands quarterback play. He understands the operation from holding the huddle to calling out a play to reading the defense and setting up your protection. He understands it all.”

An endorsement from Shaw in Columbia is the equivalent of a blessing from the Pope in Rome, but in the heat of the moment that comes with every Saturday in the fall, it’s no longer enough to shelter Roper and his offense from some grumbling. Another layer of goodwill was scrubbed off Saturday night when the Gamecocks lost 17-10 to Kentucky.

The Wildcats had surrendered at least 500 yards to each of their previous three opponents, including Southern Miss and New Mexico State, but the Gamecocks gained only 268 yards. Four weeks into the season, South Carolina is last in the SEC and next-to-last in the country in scoring (14.3 points per game) and last in the SEC and 124th in the nation in total offense (282.8 yards per game).

“It’s not always going to be very pretty for us right now,” Muschamp said Sunday. “I said that at the beginning of the season. There are a lot of things happening right now that we tried to foreshadow going into the year.”

There’s a faction of the fan base who didn’t get that message, and now the narrative is beginning to surface again: “See, we told you these can’t coach offense.”

Most fans know better in the light of day, but it’s hard to think clearly when you’re losing to Kentucky.

For those who are holding on to the notion that play-calling is the problem at the moment, it’s time to drop that argument. There may be a time to pick it back up, but it’s nonsensical this year. South Carolina is starting a true freshman quarterback; its leading wide receiver is a true freshman; its starting running back is an undersized redshirt freshman; it only has two running backs it trusts enough to have more than one carry; its offensive line is inconsistent.

There’s no arguing that it’s ugly. South Carolina is 13th in the SEC in third down conversions (31 percent), 13th in red zone conversions (25 percent), last in first downs (15.3 per game) and last in yards per play (4.52). The biggest problem is not coaching, though. It’s just that there’s not a whole lot to work with at the moment.

An actual offensive genius couldn’t do a lot with this roster. We know this because Steve Spurrier’s last team finished 11th in the SEC in total offense, and Spurrier had Pharoh Cooper.

It’s worth noting that Florida improved from 18.8 points per game to 27.9 points per game in Roper’s one year as offensive coordinator with the Gators.

It may turn out that Roper is not the answer for South Carolina. It may turn out that Muschamp is not either. But the results on the field this year aren’t going to give us those answers.