Josh Kendall

Suddenly, South Carolina’s offense talk of the team

Will Muschamp is used to answering questions about his offense.

Through the first five years of his head coaching career, those questions were along the lines of, “Why isn’t your offense any good?”

“It’s not like we’re not trying to score,” Muschamp said. “That’s kind of comical some of the stuff I hear. Most of the people who are being critical of you don’t know if a football is stuffed or blown.”

Year six of Muschamp’s coaching career kicked off unofficially Thursday with South Carolina’s appearance at SEC media days, where the questions about Muschamp’s offense have suddenly shifted.

For instance: “Could this be the best offense you’ve had as a head coach?”

There are plenty of signs that it could be. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is drawing rave reviews after starting seven games and completing more than 65 percent of his passes as a true freshman. The running back combination of Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams will give the ground game more punch that it had a year ago, and the triumvirate of wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst could be as good as the SEC has.

“The thing I like about these guys is there are a lot of knowns coming back,” Muschamp said Thursday. “Competition usually creates consistency in performance. We have guys that are competing for playing time, and they understand they have to come to practice every day and perform at a very high level. I think we have some talented guys at the skill positions, and we need to continue to improve on the offensive line. It starts at the quarterback position, and I feel good about Jake.”

The Gamecocks finished last in the SEC in scoring (20.8 ppg) and next-to-last in total offense (347.5 ypg) in 2016. Those numbers improved when Bentley took over in the second half of the season, and if that progress continues into this fall, Muschamp finally will have the potent offense that evaded him throughout his first five years as a head coach.

“I think that would be huge for him,” Hurst said. “I know all the stuff that went on at Florida and in his past about the offensive struggles, but having the unit we have now I feel that coach is pretty excited. We have a lot of explosive players, and we’re just excited to start playing.”

The offense likely will need to be good because the Gamecocks defense will be playing lots of young players.

“I feel like we have to take the pressure off the defense,” said Samuel. “We have to go out there and score points. We had a good recruiting class this year, so I feel like we have more depth this season.”

Hurst believes the offense can be good enough not only to take pressure off the defense but good enough to put South Carolina in the thick of the SEC East race.

“Why not now?” he asked. “Coach tells us every day, we are never going to show up at any stadium in the country to lose a football game. He wants to win and he wants to win now. Why not win now?”

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