Josh Kendall: It feels like a bitter 3-2 start for USC
A South Carolina football team that averaged 33 points per game in the first two games has averaged 15.7 in the past three games, and the Gamecocks offensive coaching staff will spend their week trying to come up with ways to turn that around.
South Carolina has fallen to 11th in the SEC in yards per game (336) and 13th in the SEC in points per game (22.6). Here are five things that could help between now and the time the Gamecocks face Arkansas on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium:
Offensive line health
By the second quarter of Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks were playing without three offensive linemen who began the year as starters – tackle Zack Bailey (ankle), guard Cory Helms (ankle) and tackle Malik Young (ankle). It’s possible, coach Will Muschamp said, that all three could return this week. Anything would help an offensive line that Muschamp said got “whipped … a lot” against Texas A&M. The Aggies had seven sacks.
If for no other reason that it needs to shake things up, South Carolina should try to go faster on offense. The Gamecocks have run 298 plays this season, which ranks 83rd in the nation. There are a lot of factors involved, including the defense’s ability to get the ball back, but there’s no question South Carolina could pick up the pace on offense. The plan coming into the year was to rely on formational diversity and shifts and motions to create an offensive advantage, but it might be time to go a different direction.
Run game revival
South Carolina can’t be a consistent offense until it can run the ball. Ty’Son Williams is the only player who had positive rushing yards against the Aggies. He finished with 14 carries for 73 yards with a long of 34 yards. That means he had 39 yards on his other 13 carries. Once A&M realized South Carolina could not run the ball, it devoted all its efforts to a pass rush that the Gamecocks could not stop. By now, every opponent knows South Carolina can’t run the ball, which is going to make life tough on quarterback Jake Bentley.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is a believer in the power of explosive plays. By South Carolina’s definition, that is any pass play that covers 20 or more yards. The Gamecocks had 12 such plays before the Texas A&M game and had three more against the Aggies – a 45-yard pass to Shi Smith, a 27-yard pass to Hayden Hurst and a 25-yard connection with Bryan Edwards. The pass rush that Bentley is facing is going to make the deep ball harder to hit, but if it’s the only thing that works, there’s no need to give up on the effort.
The Wildcat formation
The Gamecocks weren’t excited about using a Wildcat formation entering the season because it meant taking the ball out of Bentley’s hands. No one on the team believes Bentley is the offensive problem (in fact, they believe he’s going to be the solution), but desperate times call for desperate measures. South Carolina lost its best Wildcat option with the injury to Deebo Samuel, but players like Shi Smith and Randrecous Davis have the athletic ability and speed to provide a threat taking the direct snap.
Who: South Carolina (3-2, 1-2 SEC) vs. Arkansas (2-2, 1-1)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM