5 ways South Carolina will be better in 2020 than 2019
South Carolina is trying to hit the reset button on offense, and Will Muschamp turned to a graybeard SEC coordinator to help him out in Mike Bobo.
There is plenty to improve on from 2019, but most of it starts on offense, and the Gamecocks have a chance to field a new go-to player at virtually every position — especially skill positions — except for a couple of offensive linemen.
If the Gamecocks improve even a few of the below areas, they could nearly double last year’s win total — even in a shortened season.
Let’s take a look at 5 ways South Carolina will be better in 2020 than 2019:
1. Yards per pass attempt
Mike Bobo is almost obsessed with one passing statistic: yards per pass attempt. Last year, the Gamecocks were dreadful, as they were tied for 12th in the league at 5.7 yards per attempt. The Gamecocks kept throwing, though, last year, 466 times, which was 3rd in the SEC.
Bobo is humble enough to not worry about sticking to a system, or philosophy that isn’t working. Perhaps this was a byproduct of the lackluster running game, or trying to force feed Bryan Edwards. But Bobo has mentioned several times this preseason that he will be flexible to attack a defense with whatever combination he can. By relieving pressure on the passing game, it will deliver more balance and ultimately let the passing game become more efficient.
2. Offensive line
The bar is low, but this is the best group of offensive linemen in the Muschamp era, and possibly since 2011. The only real question is at left tackle and Jazston Turnetine. The rest are highly experienced veterans, including Sadarius Hutcherson or Dylan Wonnum. Then there’s junior center Eric Douglas and Jovaughn Gwyn.
The running game was hit a significant blow with the loss of MarShawn Lloyd, not to mention the loss of stat-padding nonconference games like Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Wofford. But it’s not just that Deshaun Fenwick and Kevin Harris have some experience; it’s the combination of that top-notch offensive line and Colorado State transfer Adam Prentice, who will lineup at fullback, as an H-back or tight end spot.
Expect to see some 2-back formations, and don’t discount the potential of Harris and Fenwick. Remember, Fenwick had 102 rushing yards against Vanderbilt last season, and Harris burst on the scene with 147 yards and 3 touchdowns against Charleston Southern. Throw in ZaQuandre White and Rashad Amos, and the Gamecocks will improve on 2019’s 149-yard rushing average, which was 10th in the SEC.
3. Scoring offense
One explanation Muschamp gave last year as the offense struggled was that many of those same players averaged 30.1 points per game in 2018, a far cry from the 22.4 points in 2019. Bobo is a more experienced play-caller and quarterback developer than Bryan McClendon. Look for formations that give defenses a different look, such as 2 tight end sets with Nick Muse and Keveon Mullins, who is 6-1 and 245 pounds and can really run.
Recently, Muschamp noted Mullins’ potential.
“Keveon Mullins adds a dimension to that position,” Muschamp said, per The Big Spur. “He’s a guy that can really run and has really flourished in the passing game.”
There is a huge void to fill with the departure of Bryan Edwards. Shi Smith has been asked to grow into a leader, and Xavier Legette looks the part and has loads of athleticism, but neither has been asked to contribute the kind of production they will need to this season.
Smith is the top returning receiver in terms of production, with 43 catches for 489 yards a year ago, but he needs to be more consistent. Only Smith and Edwards last year had at least 40 catches.
Those numbers will be spread out as the Gamecocks return to the 3 target production they had with 2 receivers and a tight end in 2016 and 2017.
5. A humble offense, AKA whatever works
McClendon faced a monumental task last year when Jake Bentley went down in the first game. He had to turn to a raw freshman in Ryan Hilinski. But the reality is this year Bobo has 2 experienced options at quarterback, and his experience as a play-caller at 2 previous stops in 2 conferences gives him the ability to find the best fit for his personnel to be productive.
“Our job as coaches is to put them in position where they understand what they’re doing on Saturday, where they can go out there and play fast,” Bobo said. “There’s a million different ways to scheme somebody offensively, but what do your players understand. Not what you understand as a coach, but what do they understand and how can they play fast. … We’re not playing a video game where we’ve got the perfect play call against the perfect defense. It’s all about what your players can do and what they feel comfortable doing.”