Josh Kendall

Red zone becoming dead zone for South Carolina offense

South Carolina’s red zone offense is not tracking in the right direction.

▪  Against N.C. State, the Gamecocks were 2-for-2 with two touchdowns.

▪  Against Missouri, they were 2-for-3 with one touchdown and one field goal.

▪  Against Kentucky, they were 1-for-2 with one touchdown.

▪  And against Louisiana Tech, they were 1-2 with one field goal.

To make the math simpler, that’s 14 points in the red zone in Game 1, 10 points in Game 2, seven points in Game 3 and three points last week in Game 4. The trend doesn’t look good for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

“We have to do a better job of executing in the red zone,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said succinctly.

The various issues can’t be wrapped into as neat a ball. South Carolina has hit 1-of-5 field goals from the red zone or what the team calls “the high fringe,” it’s turned the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line, it has missed protections and turned the ball over.

“It’s multiple things, it’s not one thing you are putting your finger on,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, we need to coach better in the situations because if our players aren’t executing, that’s a coaching issue in my opinion. We have to do a better job of putting our guys in spots to be successful where we don’t have a protection issue or we don’t have a route that is not run precisely the right way.”

As much as anything, it is the Gamecocks’ struggles in the red zone that have hamstrung an offense that ranks 11th in the SEC in yards (350.3 per game) and 12th in the conference in points (24 per game).

South Carolina’s red zone offense is last in the SEC and 119th in the nation. The Gamecocks have scored on six of their nine trips inside the 20-yard line for a 66.7 percent success ratio. Their touchdown percentage of 44.4 percent ranks 116th in the nation.

“If we are able to finish in the red zone, things will be a lot better for us,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “It’s just players making plays.”

Quarterback Jake Bentley specified that it’s players making the right kind of plays.

“You don’t want to be ultra-aggressive to put yourself out of points,” Bentley said. “We always talk in the red zone about being needy, not greedy. You want to get points so you don’t want to make a bad decision and turn the ball over and not get points.”

Bentley’s biggest weapon, his throwing arm, becomes a little less valuable in the red zone because of the condensed nature of the field. With no fear of a deep route, defenders fill up the area in his line of sight.

“Defense kinds of puts their toes on the goal line and makes you throw it over them. That’s one of the more difficult things to do,” Bentley said. “It gets more difficult to throw the ball down there for sure.”

Which is why running the ball become even more important in the red zone, which is why South Carolina’s struggling running game (12th in the SEC) becomes even more of a sore spot close to the goal line.

“Definitely the closer you get the more you want to be able to pound it up in there and get it done,” Bentley said.

The Gamecocks can’t score consistently when they can’t run the ball.

“We just want to try to score and put points on the board, whether that’s runs or throws,” running back Ty’Son Williams said. “It’s not problem getting down there. It’s just a couple things we have to clean up. I don’t think it’s a big issue.”

If it’s not, it’s fast becoming one.

Game info

Who: USC (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kyle Field; College Station, Texas

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC