Josh Kendall

Bryan McClendon’s comfort zone leads Gamecocks into end zone

When D.J. Shockley talked to Bryan McClendon before the season started, McClendon was excited but cautiously so headed into his first season as an offensive coordinator.

When the friends and former Georgia teammates talked again at midseason, McClendon was much more confident, not just in himself but in his South Carolina football players.

“He kind of went from, ‘I’m not sure these guys can handle everything I want to do,’ to, ‘We can do what we really want to,’” said Shockley, who was McClendon’s quarterback when the pair won the 2005 SEC championship. “He was way more confident in what he wanted to do, what he was seeing and what he wanted to call during the game.”

The difference has shown on the field for the Gamecocks. South Carolina averaged 404 yards and 28.3 points per game through the first six games of the regular season. In the final six, it averaged 476.3 yards and 36.3 points.

“He’s done an amazing job,” Gamecocks tight end Jacob August said. “You can tell by the numbers we have produced.”

August is one of five South Carolina pass catchers with a career high in yards this season, joining wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith and tight end Kiel Pollard.

“I think the difference in BMac is his ability to get players open when you don’t think they can get open,” August said. “He has an innate ability to call up plays and make routes that I have never seen before, that the defense has never seen before. It was definitely, ‘Woah, I didn’t know you could do that.’”

South Carolina’s yards per passing attempt (8.2) this season is its highest since 2013 (8.6). The Gamecocks offensive turnaround came after they gained a season-low 299 yards against Texas A&M in a game in which Samuel, Edwards and Smith all dropped key passes.

After that game, McClendon moved from the press box to the field to call plays, and he has remained there since.

“He felt like he needed to be on the field with (the wide receivers),” coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s all about seeing the game. It’s a lot more hectic on the field than sitting in a press box. The players seemed to be more receptive to it so that’s what works.”

McClendon was not available to comment for this article because Muschamp only allows his assistant coaches to speak to the media two times a year.

McClendon replaced Kurt Roper as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator, and the Gamecocks can tell he has a background as a wide receiver rather than a quarterback, like Roper. McClendon played wide receiver at Georgia and coaches the Gamecocks wide receivers.

“Coach Roper was real schematic in teaching the game. BMac stands more with going with RPOs and taking more shots,” senior quarterback Michael Scarnecchia said. “He’s really good at seeing DBs, their leverage and how they play, coverage tells and certain things that our receivers can utilize to get open.”

South Carolina’s total yards (440.2 per game vs. 337.1 per game), points (32.6 per game vs. 24.2 per game), yards per play (6.38 vs. 5.46), passing yards (277.4 vs. 214.9) and rushing yards (162.8 vs. 122.2) all are up from a year ago.

“I thought he brought a creative look to this offense and used the style of players he has to his advantage,” said Shockley, now a college football analyst for the SEC Network, “and obviously all the numbers show it.”

Belk Bowl info

Who: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

When: Noon Dec. 29