South Carolina football: Can Gamecocks fix passing offense in time for historically close series against Tennessee?
This is the Ryan Hilinski who looks like a freshman. The strong start against Charleston Southern and especially Alabama is somehow a distant memory as he and his group of above average receivers have hit a collective rough patch in the passing game.
It remains an inexplicable stat that Hilinski’s season high in passing yards (323) and touchdowns (2) is against Alabama. What’s more, he’s only topped 200 yards in one other game, Charleston Southern.
Yes, there have been dropped passes, and routes not run precisely, but as coach Will Muschamp said on his media teleconference Sunday night, the Gamecocks need to hit on 1 or 2 down field throws a game.
“You hit that, that changes the complexion of the game and how they are playing you,” he said. “We need to be more accurate in those situations.”
Muschamp was then asked if other quarterbacks could be inserted in certain situations.
“We’ve got to narrow down and find out some things we can do throwing the football, that’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said. “… I think we’ve got to find something better Ryan can do because you go back and look at Charleston Southern and Alabama, two games we threw and caught the ball extremely well.
“We need to try to get back to some things we feel comfortable with. He’s been good at times, because again, he’s been good, it’s not all Ryan. … We’ve got a number of issues that we’re dealing with here and we’ve just got to fix the parts and move forward and get some things we feel comfortable with.”
For his part after the game, WR Bryan Edwards after the Florida loss referred to the weather.
“Obviously it was a little rainy today, so I feel like it threw our timing off a little bit,” he said. “We had opportunities down the field, we just couldn’t connect.”
This week at Tennessee, the Gamecocks will face a middle-of-the-pack passing defense in the SEC. The Vols give up an average of 204 yards per game.
There was the injury to QB Tua Tagovailoa, however, Tennessee is coming off a loss to Alabama where the Vols held Alabama’s offense to season lows in points (35), passing yards (233) and total yards (373). On offense, Tennessee also rushed for 100 yards against Alabama for the 1st time in 4 years.
If recent history is any indication, Saturday’s game will be close. The past 6 games have each been decided by less than 7 points, and in 5 of those games were decided by 3 points or less.
Tennessee leads the series 25-10-2, including a 16-3 advantage in Knoxville, but the Gamecocks have won each of the past 3 contests, including a 27-24 win last year in Columbia and a 15-9 win at Neyland Stadium in 2017.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt noted at his regular press conference that South Carolina has been “stubborn” running the ball, and he added something that could be a difference in the game, especially late.
“We’ve played 3 really physical games against really good opponents in a row,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to get ready to play another one.”
While they haven’t coached on the same staff together, Pruitt noted the similarities in the careers for he and Muschamp, and how they’ve worked with and for some of the same people, most notably Nick Saban.
“His teams always play extremely hard, they take on his character,” Pruitt said of Muschamp. “They’re tough, they’re physical and they’re sound. They always give you different looks. They win a lot of really close games. If you look at last year, there was a lot of 1-score games, our game, beat us 27-24, they found a way to win in the end. We’re going to have our hands full for sure.”