Josh Kendall

At season’s midpoint, Muschamp and McClendon still trying to prove point

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp hired a new offensive coordinator in the offseason. Halfway through the year, the Gamecocks are ninth in the SEC in yards, 404 per game and 10th in points, 28.8 per game.

Muschamp remains happy with his hire.

“The question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Are you putting guys in situations to be successful?’ and we are,” Muschamp said. “I think Bryan (McClendon) has put guys in position to be successful.”

This is not an indefensible position. The Gamecocks offense under McClendon and Muschamp has been particularly tough to judge because of inconsistent play at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. The pair will be judged, though, because South Carolina is underperforming its preseason expectations and Muschamp has an unflattering track record of offensive football in his past.

The offensive history of Muschamp’s seven years as a head coach is well-chronicled. McClendon is his fourth offensive coordinator in his seven seasons as a head coach. None of those teams have finished the season better than 10th in the conference in yards or eighth in the conference in scoring. A quick review: 2011 (10th in yards, eighth in scoring), 2012 (12th in yards, 10th in scoring), 2013 (14th in yards, 14th in scoring), 2013 (12th in yards, eighth in scoring), 2016 (13th in yards, 14th in scoring), 2017 (12th in yards, 12th in scoring), 2018 (ninth in yards, 10th in scoring).

When Muschamp hired McClendon, who had no collegiate play-calling experience until his audition in last season’s Outback Bowl, it was a risky move. And then he went further out on that limb by freeing McClendon to run a more wide-open, tempo-based offense and adding quarterbacks coach Dan Werner to help move the team in that direction.

The Gamecocks head coach is a believer in his heart in the primacy of the run game, and he’s gotten out of his comfort zone this year. Here’s what he’s gotten in return: a passing game that has faltered in key moments.

In a 26-23 loss to No. 17 Texas A&M last week, South Carolina lost at least 146 yards due to five dropped passes, and quarterback Jake Bentley threw an interception in the red zone. Bentley’s seven interceptions this season are the most in the SEC despite the fact that many starters have played two more games than he has. The dropped passes passed double digits a while back.

“It is tough (to judge the offense) from the standpoint of missed opportunities,” Muschamp said.

Despite all of that, South Carolina is fifth in the SEC in passing with 250.3 yards per game through the air. What it is not is efficient or explosive. The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in pass attempts per game with 35.8 but 11th in yards per attempt at 7.0.

Missing big plays, as the Gamecocks did twice against Texas A&M when Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards dropped long passes, means missing “opportunities to create momentum for our football team,” Muschamp said.

“We had some shots down the field because (the Aggies) outnumber you in the box,” Muschamp said. “We just have to capitalize on those situations. Bryan called a good game.”

Until the Gamecocks can take advantage of the right situations better, it’s going to be difficult for the team’s fans to feel that way.

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