Josh Kendall

Gamecocks shooting for perfect balance on first down

Cory Helms has a life lesson to share.

“Don’t ever play a quarterback in Madden,” the South Carolina offensive lineman said.

Madden NFL 17 is the latest version of a popular football video game, and Helms recently made the mistake of taking on Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley in a game.

“I’ll never do it again,” Helms joked.

Still, he pointed out something that struck him as interesting during the defeat. On a third-and-13 play, Helms called a running play. On first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Bentley called a pass, thus confirming one of the sport’s oldest truisms: Offensive linemen always want to run. Quarterbacks always want to pass.

South Carolina’s actual football team would like to be pretty much right in the middle of that equation, at least on first down, head coach Will Muschamp said.

“I think we are always wanting to be efficient on first down offensively, we want to be playing second-and-6 or less. You don’t want to be second-and-7 plus,” Muschamp said. “We would like to be balanced down the middle, fifty-fifty based on run and pass. I don’t know off the top of my head what our exact numbers are. But that’s, to me, it’s always about balance and what you are doing.”

Until last week’s game against UMass, the Gamecocks were at almost exactly that 50 percent ratio. Through the first six games, South Carolina ran the ball 84 times and threw it 79 times on first down plays (51.5 percent). Against the Minutemen, a game in which Bentley made his first career starter, South Carolina was the most run heavy on first down it has been all season. The Gamecocks ran 23 times and threw nine times on first down in that game.

“I know we ran the ball a lot on first down last week because it was working,” Helms said. “I know we called a pass one time on first down and we were kind of confused. We just weren’t expecting it. It was actually a really good call.”

Tight end Hayden Hurst believes offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was purposefully conservative last week not because it was Bentley’s first game but because the Gamecocks could afford to be against UMass, Hurst said.

“For this week, we’ll see,” Hurst said. “I have a feeling we are going to have some different looks.”

For the season, the Gamecocks are 55.2 percent weighted toward run on first down plays, 107 to 87. Muschamp would like to see his team be aggressive in general on first down, he said.

“I am always looking for first-down shots down the field,” Muschamp said. “That’s where most defenses are going to try and create the run box and generally that is where you are going to get your fifty-fifty opportunities down the field. One of the very few things on game day I’ll say on offense is, ‘Let’s take a shot here. Let’s stretch the field here.’ ”

Overall, South Carolina is the second-most pass heavy team in the SEC, running the ball on 50.4 percent of all plays and throwing on 49.6 percent. Only Ole Miss throws the ball on a higher percentage of its plays (52.2 percent throws, 47.8 percent runs). The Gamecocks are 13th in the SEC in total offense with 317.4 yards per game. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper hasn’t spoken to the media since the season began.

Roper “does a good job of mixing it up I think,” Helms said. “I don’t know the distribution but our offense is pretty balanced.”

Game Info

Who: Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) vs. South Carolina (3-4, 1-4)

When: 7:15 p.m., Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 107.5 FM

Line: Tennessee by 13

Run or pass?

Auburn runs the ball on a higher percentage of its snaps than any team in the SEC. The Tigers run the ball 70.4 percent of the time. Here’s a breakdown of how often each conference team runs versus throws.

Team

Run %

Auburn

70.4

Kentucky

64.5

Alabama

60.3

LSU

58.7

Vanderbilt

58.4

Tennessee

58.3

Georgia

58.0

Arkansas

56.1

Mississippi State

55.3

Texas A&M

52.0

Missouri

52.0

Florida

51.8

South Carolina

50.4

Ole Miss

47.8

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