Bye Week Breakdown: 5 areas where South Carolina can improve
That’s probably the best word to describe the first half of South Carolina’s 2014 season.
Looked at as a possible College Football Playoff contender and favorite to win the SEC East, the Gamecocks have performed far below those high expectations. With the weekend off, South Carolina gets a much-needed bye week as Steve Spurrier’s team looks to turnaround its 3-3 record by improving in these five crucial areas.
- Kick coverage – South Carolina is the worst kickoff coverage team in the SEC. They allow an average of 29.12 yards per kickoff return (126th nationally) and is the only team in the SEC to give up more than one kickoff return touchdown. During Spurrier’s tenure, kickoff coverage has been a lingering issue and it’s something the HBC has even admitted, saying he’s not a good kickoff coverage coach. Still, the Gamecocks hold a 4-1 record in games where they give up a kickoff return touchdown, but big plays in special teams won’t do a struggling defense any favors as the season moves along.
- Generating pass rush – After losing several key starters along the defensive line, including No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, it’s understandable that South Carolina’s pass rush has taken a hit this season. But generating just seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss in six games is abysmal. So far JT Surratt has been MIA and sophomore Gerald Dixon seems to be the only one consistently generating some pressure. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s 3-4 scheme has been largely unsuccessful this season, with talented linebackers Skai Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams providing a rush off the edges. Because of the inexperience within South Carolina’s front seven, this is an issue that could be remedied as the season progresses and the players improve, but for now it’s a glaring weakness. The lack of pass rush also has left the secondary out to dry most weeks, giving opposing quarterbacks too much time in the pocket.
- Closing out games – A lot of this has to do with the inconsistency South Carolina has emulated this season. Against Missouri, the Gamecocks shut down the Tigers for three quarters before giving up the lead seemingly in minutes during the fourth quarter and losing 21-20. The following week versus Kentucky, South Carolina played outstanding in the first and third quarters, but its poor play in the second and fourth quarters was too much to overcome and they lost 45-38. Closing out games doesn’t just fall on the players, but on the coaches as well. Often times, this is an issue that goes along with inexperience, but certainly wasn’t a problem foreseen by many at the start of the season for this year’s Gamecocks.
- Turnover margin – With the deficiencies on defense and Dylan Thompson’s six interceptions, it’s no surprise that South Carolina has a turnover margin at minus-3. Much of Thompson’s numbers come from a three interception performance against Kentucky last week, but it’s hard to imagine South Carolina turning things around unless the turnover margin changes as well. This falls on the shoulders of both South Carolina’s defense to create turnovers and Thompson to limit turnovers. On defense, the issues of no pass rush and soft passing coverage in the secondary isn’t going to produce a lot of turnovers. More than likely, if the Gamecocks’ defense can fix its other foundational issues, the turnovers should come.
- Playcalling – Arguably the biggest issue this season for South Carolina has been the playcalling. The most recent example came against Kentucky last week. In the first quarter, the Gamecocks came out of the gates pounding the rock. On South Carolina’s two opening drives, the Gamecocks ran double-digit plays on both drives with a total of 23 plays. Kentucky could not stop running back Mike Davis, who was en route to a career high 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But then the playcalling shifted. Spurrier seemed determined to pass the football and it was a plan that backfired. 11 passing plays later in the first half and South Carolina gained only five total yards. Eventually, the straying away from the run game hurt the Gamecocks, who lost 45-38. Leaning heavily on the run will not only keep South Carolina’s defense rested and off the field, but it’ll open things up for Thompson in the passing game. Going about things with a pass-first mentality simply won’t work for South Carolina this season, no matter how much Spurrier may want it to.