Josh Kendall

Expectations on offense: How Muschamp, Roper will measure progress

Two days into South Carolina football’s offensive reboot, everyone was feeling pretty good.

“The quarterbacks are playing very well right now,” sophomore wide receiver Terry Googer said. “Everyone is impressed. They are throwing the ball really well and they are taking control of the offense.”

Senior Perry Orth practiced with the first team offense while freshman Brandon McIlwain led the second-team offense on Tuesday’s opening day of practice. The pair then switched for Wednesday morning’s workout, Orth said. Sophomore Lorenzo Nunez has worked exclusively at wide receiver and freshman Jake Bentley has practiced with the team’s rookies through the first two days.

Orth continues to be impressed with his competition for the starting job.

McIlwain “throws it about as good as I have seen,” Orth said after Wednesday’s practice. “There are flashes every day. There were a few plays today where you just went, ‘Wow, that kid’s talented.’ He works hard which makes it easy for me to compliment him. I am really excited for his future.”

As for the immediate future of the Gamecocks offense, there is less excitement among outsiders. South Carolina finished 12th ithe SEC in scoring and 11th in total yards last season and lost its only proven offensive commodity (wide receiver Pharoh Cooper) from that group. Throw in the fact that the Gamecocks could be starting a freshman at quarterback and it adds up to a rebuilding project.

Just don’t tell that to Googer.

“I feel like this offense is straight playmaking,” the sophomore from Atlanta said. “We have the ability to break a big play at any moment. We have a lot of playmakers on offense.”

First-year head coach Will Muschamp hopes so.

“To me, the biggest stats are explosive plays and taking care of the ball. Turnover margin and big-play ratio. You’re not giving them up on defense, you’re making them on offense. You’re taking care of the ball on offense, you’re taking it away on defense,” Muschamp said. “You want to go back to who’s in the NFL playoffs every year and who’s playing well in college football, for the most part every year, it goes back to those two stats.”

The Gamecocks staff considers runs of more than 12 yard and passes of more than 16 yards to be explosive plays. Last season, South Carolina was 10th in the SEC in plays of longer than 10 yards and 11th in plays of longer than 20 yards.

Improving that will be one of the metrics South Carolina’s coaching staff will be looking at as it measures its progress on offense this season. Third-down conversions, red zone efficiency and penalties will be the others, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said.

“If we’re doing a good job in those areas, then we feel we have a good chance to have a successful game,” Roper said. “We are always going to look at those areas and see if we’re improving. It’s always a week-to-week balance.”

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel believes the new faster pace of South Carolina’s offense will help the Gamecocks increase their explosiveness.

“The faster we move, the tireder the defense gets and the more we have chances to make big plays,” he said.

Googer, who caught five passes last year, thinks he and his offensive teammates will surprise some people this fall.

“The system,” he said, “is made to get all the playmakers in a one-on-one situation and make a move and just run.”

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