Josh Kendall: It feels like a bitter 3-2 start for USC
South Carolina dropped its second game in its last three tries Saturday night, falling 24-17 to Texas A&M. The Aggies erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter after the Gamecocks (3-2, 1-2 SEC) offense disappeared. Between the offensive struggles and a defense that’s just holding on at this point, here are five things we learned from South Carolina’s trip to College Station, Texas:
First and second down are a problem
South Carolina’s ineffectiveness on third down is getting a lot of attention, as it should, but the root cause of that problem is what’s happening on first and second down. Of the Gamecocks’ 13 third downs against Texas A&M, six needed 9 or more yards for a conversion. USC’s average distance faced on third down was 10.3 yards, making it no surprise it only converted two of them in the game. The Gamecocks are seventh in the SEC in third-down conversions, converting 39.4 percent of the time.
The OL cohesion has to improve
It’s understandable that the offensive line is having communication issues. It has had to juggle personnel up front because of injuries and has been ineffective since the second game of the season. D.J. Park went from benchwarmer to right tackle against the Aggies because of an ankle injury suffered by Malik Young. All the new faces in new places led to lots of confusion when Texas A&M’s defense brought blitzes and stunts on the way to getting seven sacks. The Gamecocks have to get that worked out this week because they will see a lot more like it against Arkansas this week.
“They ran a few stunts, and that was the thing that got us,” USC center Alan Knott said. “They got us multiple times on the same thing. It’s something we have to look at it because we are going to see it again. It’s something they’ve got to be ready for.”
The Gamecocks only allowed eight sacks in the first four games of the season, but now are 13th in the SEC with 15 allowed for the season.
They don’t have the offensive answer either
There’s no “aha” moment coming for the offense, some magical knowledge of the one thing that can be discovered and corrected to turn things around. There a lot of little things that have to get better on a consistent basis for every position group if the Gamecocks are going to improve an offense that ranks 11th in the SEC in yards (336 per game) and 13th in points (22.6 per game).
“Execution,” quarterback Jake Bentley said again and again after Saturday night’s game. “I hate to keep on saying it, but that’s all it is.” The reason he keeps saying it is it’s really the only answer. Everything from top to bottom has to improve.
Run defense is wearing down
The truth is South Carolina’s run defense hasn’t been bad this year. In fact, it’s markedly improved over last season. In Muschamp’s first season, the Gamecocks allowed 4.8 yards per carry. This year, they are allowing 3.92 yards per carry, but it looks like it can only hold up for so long. Safety Chris Lammons mentioned that Texas A&M’s time of possession started to wear on him and his teammates. That fatigue is only going to build if the USC offense doesn’t help alleviate some pressure. How many yards per carry did the Aggies average? Yep, 4.8.
The rest of the season still is mystery
South Carolina has struggled the last three weeks, no question, but the struggles of almost every other team in the SEC gives the Gamecocks some hope. Their next three opponents – Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – are a combined 0-5 in the SEC. After that, it’s a trip to Georgia, where the Bulldogs appear to be the cream of the SEC East crop, but then it’s a home game against a Florida team that is back starting a quarterback, Feliepe Franks, that it benched earlier in the year. All of that should give South Carolina fans hope that there are wins to be had in the next eight weeks.