5 biggest blunders the South Carolina coaching staff made in 2020
Given the firing of Will Muschamp, plenty went wrong for South Carolina this season, almost from the get-go as the opening offensive drive of the season went smoothly for the Gamecocks, but then it gave way to 3 straight touchdowns against Tennessee.
Ultimately, it was the offense couldn’t find complimentary playmakers beyond Kevin Harris and Shi Smith, and it wasn’t clear how much to put on QB Collin Hill for the struggling offense and dropped passes by other receivers not named Smith.
For the defensive-minded Muschamp, the final straw was that South Carolina gave up 48 or more points in each of its last 3 games. That wasn’t all.
Effort was never the issue, and that’s, after all, what Muschamp prided himself in. The direction? Well, that was where things went off the rails.
“If you question anything about their effort, their toughness in how they played, me and you are going to have a huge disagreement as far as that’s concerned,” Muschamp told a reporter after the Ole Miss loss. “They fought their asses off and we didn’t make enough plays defensively. Call it like it is.”
Coaching always plays a key role when a season goes awry. Here are the 5 biggest blunders the South Carolina coaching staff made:
1. Swiss cheese defense
The combined 159 points scored by LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss are the most given up in a 3-week span in school history. Those teams racked up 1,779 yards in those games.
The numbers are inexplicable because of the talent and experience on defense. There’s both experience and talent on the defensive line, as Kingsley Enagbare leads the SEC in sacks with 6, LB Ernest Jones is a middle linebacker who could start on most SEC teams. And before they opted out, the cornerback duo of Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu is NFL-caliber talent. But the unit repeatedly had trouble tackling, and that was never more clear than the bumper-car defense showed at Florida when several Gamecocks ran alongside Kadarius Toney en route to a touchdown instead of taking him down.
2. Managing/developing quarterbacks
In the offseason, the first constructive criticism new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had for Ryan Hilinski was his footwork needed to improve. But once Hill arrived, his knowledge of the Bobo offense was too much to overcome for Hilinski, who may have more raw talent than Hill, but evidently lacked the decision making and management of the playbook to lead the team. Mix in the versatility of Luke Doty, and it was unclear how the coaching staff wanted to manage the quarterbacks.
After the 48-3 thumping against Texas A&M, the coaching staff opened the starting quarterback job to all 3 on the roster. At that point, Hill was 11th in the SEC in passer rating (116.6) and yards per game (190.3) and 12th in completion percentage (58.8) and touchdowns (five). By then, the playbook playing field was seemingly level, after all, it was 6 games into the season. But Hill kept the job, and wasn’t replaced until halftime of the next game against Missouri.
3. A second receiver
Jalen Brooks was the talk of the preseason as a surprise transfer addition. Xavier Legette was a big bodied target who showed flashes last season. At tight end, Nick Muse had experience and Keveon Mullins had potential to add another option to the mix. But none of them really panned out until the Missouri and Georgia games when Muse had the games of his career.
Legette battled injuries the entire season, Brooks wasn’t cleared until the LSU game on Oct. 24, and then suffered from a case of the drops. Muse did not come on until the quarterback switch to Doty, as 14 of his 30 catches came in the last 2 games.
With 1 game remaining in the regular season, Smith, who missed the Georgia game with a concussion, still has 54 catches, which is more than the next 2 top receivers, Muse and Harris, combined. Muse has 30 catches, and Harris has 20.
4. Missing the 5-star contributions
DL Zacch Pickens’ first-career sack against Georgia was something to rejoice, and lament. It’s simply too late in his career, the 9th game of his sophomore season, for a 5-star defensive lineman to pick up his first career sack. That gave Pickens 2.5 tackles for a loss this season. The other 5-star, Jordan Burch, had a strong start to the season against Tennessee and Florida, but only had a half tackle for a loss since, and did not play against Georgia. If the new coach has any immediate success at all, he’ll need a consistent upgrade from Pickens and Burch.
5. Offseason coaching shakeup
Between the 2019 season and this year, South Carolina had a staff shakeup with 6 new coaches: Bobo, running backs coach Des Kitchings, wide receivers coach Joe Cox, linebackers coach Rod Wilson, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and strength coach Paul Jackson as new hires.
On the surface, Bobo and Kitchings have received the highest marks as their areas of responsibility have improved the most since last season. Even if the general offensive improvement isn’t reflected in stats, former players like Connor Shaw and various television analysts have said that Bobo’s schemes and offensive alignments have delivered a more dynamic and creative offense.
But overall, far too many of these units had roughly the same performance as last year, didn’t show a marked difference, or simply had less production, most notably the wide receivers.
That’s why South Carolina is looking for a head coach.