Josh Kendall

Why USC’s offense is sometimes stuck in reverse

South Carolina football hosts Western Carolina on Saturday.
South Carolina football hosts Western Carolina on Saturday. dmclemore@thestate.com

The problem is obvious. South Carolina is last in the SEC and 124th in the nation in tackles-for-loss allowed with 80. That means 12 percent of the Gamecocks’ 662 offensive plays this year have gone in the wrong direction.

The explanation is less clear. The easy answer is to blame the offensive line, but that’s not the complete answer, head coach Will Muschamp keeps saying. South Carolina gave up five sacks last week against Florida. Only one of those was the offensive line’s fault, their coach said.

“In the passing game, we have to get rid of the ball,” Muschamp said. “We got physically beat one time on the offensive line and other than that we have to get rid of the ball.”

Muschamp also wanted to see more runs called against the Gators despite the fact that South Carolina averaged 1.4 yards per carry on the 30 runs it did call. (College rushing stats can be deceiving because sack yardage is subtracted from rushing totals. Discounting the 24 yards lost to sacks, the Gamecocks averaged a less-terrible but still-not-close-to-good 2.7 yards per carry against Florida.)

The Gators “have been very difficult for everybody to run against, not just us,” Muschamp said.

Almost everybody has been difficult for South Carolina to run against, though. The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in rushing with 112.3 yards per game. They are also last in the SEC (and 124th in the nation) in the more illuminating yards-per-carry statistic (3.15).

On top of that, South Carolina has surrendered 33 sacks this season, which is the worst total in the SEC and ranks 121st in the nation. In his four-game collegiate career, freshman quarterback Jake Bentley has hit the turf 17 times and been hurried another 15 times. That’s not the way you want to treat The Future, but Muschamp isn’t too worried about Bentley.

“Jake is fine. He’s a competitor,” Muschamp said. “He will keep competing and hanging in there and throwing it. That’s part of playing quarterback in this league. You’re going to get hit.”

There is no question part of the responsibility for these painful numbers falls at the feet of South Carolina’s offensive line. The front five was supposed to be the team’s strength this year, although that designation came as much by process of elimination as anything else.

“The only place we had any playing experience was the offensive line,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp said Sunday that he will evaluate his offensive line “when the season’s over,” but he also came to each starter’s defense individually.

“I think Zack Bailey has been very consistent. I think Mason Zandi has been very consistent through the year,” he said. “Alan Knott missing a summer of lifting has affected his play, but he’s continued to play better. Cory Helms played center all through camp and has played the right guard position (during the season) and done a nice job. Malik Young has settled in at right tackle.”

It’s true that there have been some glaring miscues up front for South Carolina. It’s also true that there have been fewer of late and that there have been offensive mistakes across the board. The sum of all the missteps is just too much for a growing offense to overcome at times.

“We have to be careful in how much we are asking some of these guys to do in skill positions,” Muschamp said. “People say, ‘You look predictable and this and that.’ Well, there are some things we are still working through schematically of, ‘What can our guys handle right now?’ 

And not all of that is the offensive line’s fault.

Ugly numbers

Not so stellar on offense:

80

Tackles-for-loss allowed by South Carolina, which is last in the SEC and 124th in the nation.

12

Percentage of the Gamecocks’ 662 offensive plays this year that have gone in the wrong direction.

Game info

Who: Western Carolina at South Carolina

When: 4 p.m., Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Alternate

Radio: 107.5 FM

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