Saturday is why South Carolina’s Will Muschamp finally made a complete commitment to a tempo-based offense in his seventh season as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.
The No. 24 Gamecocks’ coach surveyed the conference and national landscape and looked at what stood between him and the team’s stated annual goals of Beat the East and Win the State. Specifically, the defensive lines at Georgia and Clemson and South Carolina’s inability to run the football against those lines.
In the four games against the Gamecocks’ most bitter rivals during Muschamp’s tenure, South Carolina has been outrushed 1,002 yards to 265 yards. They are 0-4.
“It’s so hard offensively right now, unless you are just elite from an ability standpoint, to create explosive plays,” Muschamp said. “In order to create some explosive plays, in the passing game especially, you need to be able to run the ball and stay balanced and create one-on-ones down the field.”
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Nobody else is running the ball against the Bulldogs and Tigers, either. Clemson ranked 12th in the nation in rush defense last year, and Georgia ranked 20th. Alabama, which stands as a roadblock between anyone and the overall SEC crown, ranked first in the nation and allowed only 2.72 yards per carry.
Modern defenses and the type of elite defensive linemen Alabama, Clemson and Georgia are stockpiling make it almost impossible for most teams in the country to have an effective run game in a traditional system. A solution, maybe the only solution for teams like South Carolina, is to go fast and steal some yards.
“When you watch teams that play with tempo and how effective they are running the football, a lot of it has nothing to do with getting a hat on a hat in the run game,” Muschamp said. “A lot of it has to do with displacement of a defensive player, not being aligned or having his eyes in the right spots.”
The Gamecocks (1-0) hope that comes into play Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when No. 3 Georgia (1-0) visits Williams-Brice Stadium. The Bulldogs have outrushed South Carolina 568-73 in the last two seasons, and the Gamecocks hope that their new offense and its ability to go faster will help even out that lopsided statistic.
“That’s one of the biggest things that we’ve talked about as an offense, the faster you go, the more they’re going to be out position and the bigger lanes there are going to be to run the football,” South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said, “especially going fast in a second-and-1, third-and-1 situations to get the first down is big for our running backs, big for our offensive line to just stay in their tracks and move whatever guy is in their way.”
The Gamecocks showed their fast pace sparingly in a 49-15 victory over Coastal Carolina last week. They ran for 263 yards.
“I think we’ll have a similar pace, maybe even faster (this week),” South Carolina center Donell Stanley said. “If we can get these guys a little winded and tired, it’ll make our job a whole lot easier.”
The Bulldogs returned two starters on the defensive line this season in tackle Tyler Clark and end Jonathan Ledbetter, and they added Notre Dame graduate transfer Jay Hayes.
“We need to run the ball,” Stanley said. “That’s our biggest emphasis. It’s good for us if we can get lined up and the defense is still looking for a call. We can basically block a gap and work up to the linebackers and such. That can be a big advantage for us if we can get our tempo going.”