South Carolina football: 5 ways the Gamecocks will measure success in 2020
The Gamecocks slipped from No. 7 in total offense in the SEC in 2018 to No. 11 in 2019, as they lost 54 yards per game in that span. That was the biggest reason South Carolina fell to 4-8 as late leads also evaporated.
Turnovers against the likes of North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee were especially alarming and led to losses. But that wasn’t the only problem in 2019. Aside from Jake Bentley’s injury and Ryan Hilinski’s up-and-down campaign, the Gamecocks struggled with explosive plays, field position, red-zone production and late-game finishes.
Resolving those issues is imperative in 2020.
Here are 5 ways the Gamecocks will measure success this season:
1. Mike Bobo’s play-calling rhythm
In an offseason of a staff shakeup that could also be described as an overhaul, Bobo is the most visible new addition to the staff. The former Colorado State coach and long-time Georgia offensive coordinator is tasked with jump-starting that stagnant offense and seeing notable development from rising sophomore Ryan Hilinski. It didn’t take very long for fans to sour on former OC Bryan McClendon even after the Gamecocks averaged 30.1 points per game in 2018. They slipped to 22.4 points last season. Bobo has long been a target for impatient fan bases as one lasting memory from his Georgia days is not handing the ball to Todd Gurley on 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line in Columbia. That’s a point he addressed at his introductory news conference at South Carolina.
With 3 home games to start the season against Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Missouri, Bobo should have plenty of time to get off on the right foot.
2. A 1,000-yard running back
MarShawn Lloyd is the latest addition in the quest to find a 1,000-yard running back for the first time since 2013 when Mike Davis did it. Last year’s 10th-place finish in the SEC in rushing yards was the best showing since the Gamecocks finished 10th also in 2015, and 9th in 2014. Lloyd is a top 40 recruit. Paired with Kevin Harris, Lloyd is on paper an upgrade over the likes of Rico Dowdle, Tavien Feaster and Mon Denson, but will take some time to acclimate to the college level.
3. Growth along the defensive line
The Gamecocks lost Javon Kinlaw, Aaron Sterling and Kobe Smith. But Muschamp has recruited the position well. Zacch Pickens, a 5-star from 2019, needs to exert plenty of sacks and tackles for a loss in his second season. Jordan Burch, a 5-star in the 2020 class, will need some time to get used to college, but if the Gamecocks are to beat any of the top 5 or top 10 teams on their schedule, it will need a host of sacks and/or interceptions.
It’s difficult for South Carolina to recruit any better on the defensive line, so these 2 need to pay dividends as soon as possible. During the golden era of 11-2 runs, South Carolina was in the top 5 in the SEC in tackles for a loss twice and also twice in the top 3 including leading the league in sacks in 2012 (43).
4. Upset Georgia, LSU or Clemson
The Georgia upset last year created a bit — even ever-fleeting — of respite from the Muschamp-should-be-fired parade. It’s a difficult stretch for the Gamecocks with Georgia at home on Nov. 7 and at LSU the following week. But if there’s ever a time to face LSU, it’s after the undergrad flood of departures the Tigers saw this offseason.
While Clemson has shifted to a national recruiting philosophy, and South Carolina has picked up several blue-chip local prospects, the fan base won’t stand for an extended losing skid against the Tigers, which already stands at 6 games.
Arguably the best showing was some sort of moral victory 2 years ago when Jake Bentley temporarily torched the Clemson defense. But last year they mustered the fewest points against Clemson in 30 years in a 38-3 result.
With Muschamp’s recruiting roots in Georgia, you could almost argue that South Carolina competes more against Georgia in head-to-head recruiting than Clemson. This trio of games wouldn’t be as imperative if there was more confidence that the Gamecocks would sweep the remaining SEC East rivals. But there’s plenty to worry about between the combination of Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri alone.
5. Snap 6-game losing streak against Texas A&M
This is a serious litmus test because the game is at home, and South Carolina will be coming off an open week. Jimbo Fisher and Co. will be the darlings of the offseason talking tours as a sort of dark horse to win the SEC West.
But by Oct. 24, the season will largely have its dye set and the Gamecocks need to prove they can’t be pushed around by a largely mid-tier program in its division that’s on the schedule annually. The Aggies controlled last year’s meeting in a defensive and field position struggle, and there’s no reason to think the Gamecocks have the upper hand since then on paper.