In most instances, South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp isn’t a stickler about time of possession, but this isn’t most instances.
“You can swing it however you want to look at it, whether it’s a positive or a negative for you, and there’s no question right now for us that it’s a negative,” said Muschamp, whose team has lost two of its past three heading into Saturday’s home game against Arkansas. “It’s our inability, at times, to get off the field defensively and maintain consistent drives offensively.”
The combination of those things has left the Gamecocks (3-2, 1-2) 10th in the SEC in time of possession, and the problem is only getting worse. Against Texas A&M, the Aggies held the ball for 19:23 of the second half while erasing a 10-point Gamecocks lead.
“Every factor plays a part in the game, and I feel like (time of possession) does,” defensive tackle Ulric Jones said. “I didn’t really see anybody really too much winded or beat down (against the Aggies), but it’s just a part of it. We have some little tweaking here and there to do, but we’ll be fine.”
It might be more than a little tweaking. The South Carolina defense, which ranks 12th in the SEC in yards allowed, has defended 378 snaps this season, the most of any team in the league and more than all but 11 teams in the nation.
“We are out there to stop them from scoring,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “We just need to get off the field on third down, really. That’ll solve a lot of our problems. Fatigue shouldn’t really be a problem right now.”
The Gamecocks are next-to-last in the SEC in third down conversion rate allowed at 45.6 percent. The offense isn’t doing the defense any favors. For the season, South Carolina is seventh in the SEC in third down conversion rate (39.4 percent), but it has converted only 5 of 25 chances in its past two SEC games.
“I think (time of possession) is huge for us,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “Being able to keep the defense off the field, give them a break, shorten the game for them. It’s all based on third down. We have to do better executing on third down to keep our defense off the field and give them a break.”
The only time this season South Carolina has come out ahead in time of possession was against Missouri, when the Gamecocks held the ball for 37:36 and won 31-13. That was South Carolina’s lone conference victory.
“The three-and-outs are an issue. We’ve had 12 in our last 26 possessions in SEC ball, and that’s a problem,” Muschamp said. “You’ve also got to get off the field on defense.”
Who: South Carolina (3-2, 1-2 SEC) vs. Arkansas (2-2, 1-1)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV/radio: SEC Network, 107.5 FM