On the surface, South Carolina comes out of its bye week with momentum following two wins to put the Gamecocks at 5-2 for the first time since 2013, when they finished 11-2.

But the offense has sputtered of late, in part masked by the three defensive touchdowns against Arkansas. Against Tennessee, for the first time this season, quarterback Jake Bentley had a game without a touchdown pass. The Gamecocks won 15-9 on Oct. 14 but Bentley piloted a lackluster start where the Gamecocks began 0-for-6 on third down. There was a dropped pass on the second drive, a sack on the third drive, and even a fourth down the Gamecocks couldn’t convert.

“Very disappointed,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Just need to be more productive as far as points are concerned.”

If not more productive, perhaps more consistent.

In the second half against Tennessee, South Carolina had no trouble with production.

South Carolina had the ball for 12:22 in the fourth quarter, and gained 100 yards. The 16-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ended with Parker White’s 29-yard field goal was the longest scoring drive in time (9:10) and tied for the longest in plays (16) in the Muschamp era.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the up-tempo plans Bentley discussed in the offseason to exploit mismatches, even with fewer offensive weapons than the Gamecocks had to start the season. After all, the running game has been stuck in neutral much of the season, and now Rico Dowdle is out for an extended time with a leg injury.

“I think it would be a way to change the pace of the game for us,” Bentley said in the offseason. “I don’t think we’ll use it all the time, but I definitely think it’s something we can use to give defenses a different look and it can really help us.”

Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

All that is why South Carolina said it spent the week off working on third-down and red-zone offense. It entered the bye week ninth in the SEC on third downs at 38 percent, and last in red zone touchdown percentage at 42 percent. More broadly, South Carolina is 12th in the SEC in yards (337.3 per game) and 11th in scoring (25.1 points per game). Bentley’s passer rating is ninth in the SEC at 138.5.

Part of the problem, Muschamp said, is that the Gamecocks have had limited possessions. In the Tennessee game, there were technically 10, but the drive to end the first half was one play. South Carolina is 10th in the league in time of possession.

Speaking in general terms on the Sunday teleconference after the Tennessee game, Muschamp didn’t single out a specific player when he mentioned sacks allowed and dropped passes.

“When I’m talking in terms of lack of execution, I’m talking about coaches,” Muschamp said. “If it’s lack of execution, that means we’re not repping enough in practice. When I say that, I’m not blaming a player at all, it’s on us as coaches, and it starts with me. If a guy’s not executing very well, obviously we haven’t given him enough looks in practice.”

South Carolina's offense is missing its top rusher (Rico Dowdle) and top receiver (Deebo Samuel) from last season because of injuries.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel’s void is difficult to fill with him out injured. Muschamp said the offensive play-calling targeted Bryan Edwards early to try to loosen Tennessee’s defense. Edwards had a game-high six catches for 63 yards and was targeted 11 times. Freshman OrTre Smith caught three passes for 40 yards.

One noticeable blemish in the passing game was targeting tight ends. Jacob August caught two passes for 9 yards. But Hayden Hurst, who has drawn compliments from coaches across the league, was targeted just once and didn’t make a catch.

While Muschamp has placed much of the responsibility on the coaching staff, it’s time to place some burden on Bentley, who in the preseason was expected to call more plays, at least at the line of scrimmage, if he saw a more favorable matchup.

Whatever adjustments the Gamecocks make, they’ll surely receive tests to close the season, especially against two top-10 teams that happen to be their biggest rivals. After a home game against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks play at Georgia, and then Florida, Wofford and Clemson at home.

The Gamecocks likely won’t have a chance to rebound from a first-down drought against several of those opponents.