South Carolina football: 6 reasons the Gamecocks' season fell flat
This was supposed to be Will Muschamp’s best team in Columbia and he preached in the summer and preseason about how “competitive depth” would translate to better results.
Now that a bowl berth is on the brink and likely a long shot, it’s time to dissect what went wrong for the Gamecocks as they’re set to play at Texas A&M and Clemson to close the regular season.
Here are 6 reasons the season fell flat:
Inability to run the ball in 3 games
Muschamp pointed this out Saturday night, but the 3 games South Carolina failed to rush for even 79 yards resulted in losses to Missouri, Tennessee and App State. Against Missouri, the Gamecocks mustered just 16 yards, while they had 78 against Tennessee and 21 against the Mountaineers.
“We don’t have a second pitch,” Muschamp said. “Run it, create some things, but we’ve got to be more efficient. We’ve got to be able to run the ball. We knew that going into the game.”
The App State performance dropped the Gamecocks from averaging 184 yards per game rushing to 168. For a team with an experienced offensive line, and perhaps more noteworthy, several veteran backs, this is inexplicable.
Passing offense problems
The Gamecocks have passed for more than 300 yards just 3 times this season, against Alabama, Tennessee and App State. It could be a case of Ryan Hilinski’s development, dropped passes, youth at the receiver position, or a combination of all of that. It appeared to improve after the Tennessee game, but then fell back.
“It’s hard to install a whole new concept, especially with some youth we have in some very important areas on the offensive line and the skill positions,” Muschamp said before the Vanderbilt game. “So just continue to try and narrow down things that we feel comfortable with as far as what the quarterback feels comfortable with and what we can do to be successful. … You know, our formula’s not going to be very successful throwing the ball 50 times right now. Right now with our football team, that’s not a real successful formula for us.”
A second star to go with Bryan Edwards
The Gamecocks’ best receiver seemingly breaks a school record each week, and unfortunately for him, they’re typically overshadowed by a loss. Edwards is now up to 71 catches on the season, and it takes the next 3 receivers on the team to surpass his production. Shi Smith, Kyle Markway and Josh Vann have a combined 78 catches. Yes, there are injury absences involved there, but that’s not the entire reason the production has lagged.
Let’s take it to touchdowns. Edwards has 6 receiving scores, but every other receiver, running back or tight end on the team has combined for just 6.
Lack of consistency
Much like last season when the Gamecocks alternated wins and losses all season, this team never gave off a confident feeling following a win, even against teams with similar or worse records.
The wins on the season tell a story.
There’s hardly anything that Charleston Southern, Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt have in common except that the Gamecocks beat every one of them.
The latest have been to wide receivers and tight ends, but key players like OT Dylan Wonnum being out played a key role in the pass protection against Tennessee.
Of course, the season’s tone was set early with the foot injury to QB Jake Bentley, which forced the accelerated development of Hilinski. However, it’s impossible to predict what that would have done to the team. Maybe he leads the team to 1 more win, or avoids the Missouri loss? But would he have gone into Georgia and be a part of the win. In a way, Bentley’s injury also paved the way for Dakereon Joyner, but he also has suffered an injury (hamstring) and missed time.
Blown 2nd-half leads
South Carolina won the turnover battle against Vanderbilt, but that was a stat Muschamp referenced leading up to the game. A pick-6 against App State was a key blow in the game.
“You look at the 2nd half, and we study this stuff, and we’ve had 10 turnovers vs. Power 5 opponents this year,” he said. “Seven of them have come in the 2nd half. … We’ve had 6 possessions end on downs. We don’t convert a 4th-down situation, regardless of the situation might have been. But that’s 13 possessions (and) right now, I want to say in the 2nd half this year we’ve had anywhere from 46 to 48 possessions. I’m not very good at math, but I’m gonna say that’s about 27-28 percent of your possessions are not ending with you giving yourself a chance to score points.”