Josh Kendall

Will fast equal fuel for USC run game? Gamecocks are counting on it

South Carolina’s players and coaches have talked a lot about their offense running faster. What it really needs is to run farther.

The Gamecocks averaged 3.92 yards per carry last season, which ranked 94th in the country. They ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 122.2.

“At the end of the day, running the ball effectively is beyond important,” South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon said.

McClendon was promoted in the offseason to replace the fired Kurt Roper, and McClendon was charged with picking up the pace on offense. That increased tempo was about finding some room for the running game as much as anything.

“Tempo teams, they can talk about physicality all they want to,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “Half the time the defense doesn’t get lined up and they crease them for a 30-yard inside zone and nobody is lined up. Those are some things I think are going to help us moving forward. “

More options at the line of scrimmage also should help.

“Most of the time, even if it’s not a run-pass option, we have to have the ability to get out of a wasted play,” McClendon said. “What I mean by a wasted play is going up there and running a play where they have too many people over there for this play to be successful so we need to try to do something else. A lot of that stuff comes with overall understanding of what we’re trying to do and understanding numbers and angles as far as the run game goes.”

There were plenty of wasted plays in the run game last year. The Gamecocks ran the ball 405 times. One-hundred-eighteen of those runs didn’t go for more than 1 yard.

“Success or failure in the run game boils down to either schematically we were wrong or physically we were whipped. I think there was a mixture of both in our failure,” Muschamp said. “It would be hard to put a percentage on it.”

One rushing play run into the wrong defense is too many McClendon, the offensive coordinator, said.

“We have to run the ball at a high level,” he said. “That’s a focus, making sure everybody understands the run game, from the quarterback out. We have to be able to get in the right plays at the right time and have the ability to have answers for different things the defense might have for us on any play, but definitely run plays.”

There were times last season when South Carolina ran into “bad matchups,” junior running back A.J. Turner said.

Turner led the Gamecocks in rushing last year with 40.8 yards per game. His 531 total yards were the lowest by a team leader since Derek Watson had 394 yards in 1999.

“Even if it’s not the right look, we want to try to make it the right look so we don’t too much look at that,” junior running back Ty’Son Williams said. “We just try to look from the standpoint of, we have to be productive on every run. It’s not like we’re trying to call plays where we’re not going to be productive.”

The Gamecocks finished 13thin the SEC in rushing in 2016, Muschamp’s first season, averaging 134.4 yards per game.

“We have some different things in the run game that we like,” he said.

The Gamecocks need them.

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