Questionable final drive of Florida loss a microcosm of South Carolina woes on offense
Even when times are bad, or are seemingly on the brink of something worse, coach Will Muschamp doesn’t shy away from a list of problems. Even if that list is long.
For the South Carolina offense, it is a growing list, and a prime reason the Gamecocks have dropped five straight games dating back to last season.
“Disappointed with where we dug ourselves a hole in the first half,” Muschamp said after Saturday’s 38-24 loss to Florida. “We were moving the football, we stopped ourselves. I think we had 5 or 6 drops in the game. Critical third downs, we’re going to get a first down, if we stay alive with a catch.”
He also said that the Florida defense didn’t do much, in particular, to slow the Gamecocks offense.
“We had opportunities on third down,” he said. “We had opportunities for big plays. We had opportunities to keep the chains moving, we don’t do it. … We just didn’t catch the ball very well. I think if we caught the ball as well as we were running it, at the time, we would have been able to do some good things offensively. If you don’t do that, and you go against an offense like that, you dig yourself a hole.”
If it wasn’t dropped passes, or the subpar performance from the right side of the offensive line in the first two games, it was a methodical final drive that did not produce any points. It was such a glaring issue that it came up three times in Muschamp’s postgame press conference.
At any other point in the game, it would have been great for the Gamecocks, who made a concerted effort to drain the clock and keep the ball away from the high-powered Florida offense. But when they started at their own 22-yard line while down 14 points, an 18-play, 74-yard drive that milked 7:23 off the clock was not what the doctor ordered.
Apparently, there was no reason for alarm on the Gamecocks sideline, or in the coaches’ headsets.
“It wasn’t a deliberate pace,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, we were trying to get first downs. We were taking what they were giving us. If we score there and get the onside kick, we still had a minute to go with two timeouts. If you have a minute to go with two timeouts, it gives you an opportunity.”
Muschamp ultimately relented to the line of questioning.
“Could we have played with a crisper tempo? Yeah,” he said. “We had to get the protection (set). They were teeing off up front. They eliminated big plays down the field. Probably could have played faster in some times there, but in that situation we were trying to stay on the field and create some explosives. They just didn’t come.”
In his third explanation of the drive, he referred to how the Florida defense was aligned, which was to protect against a deep pass. South Carolina had 5 passing plays that went for fewer than 10 yards.
“We’re just trying to get down the field,” he said. “We are trying to stay on the field, make it a 1-score game, get an onside kick with 2 timeouts and go win the game.”
The dropped passes again kept the Gamecocks from developing a clear No. 2 receiver behind Shi Smith, who had 12 catches for 85 yards and 1 TD, his second straight game with double-digit catches. Running backs Kevin Harris and Deshaun Fenwick each had more catches than any of the receivers besides Smith.
One improvement was the running game behind Harris, who nearly doubled his rushing output from the season opener against Tennessee (100 yards vs. 55). And points are up from last year, when the Gamecocks struggled to reach 20 consistently. The 27 and 24 points they’ve scored this year are more than they scored in eight games last year.
Yet in what feels eerily similar to last season, the Gamecocks vow to fight through their struggles, and now they have Vanderbilt on tap. The Commodores are the last team the Gamecocks beat before their current losing streak, a 24-7 decision on Nov. 2.
“We continued to battle and had a chance to make it a 1-score game at the end and came up a little short,” QB Collin Hill said. “We didn’t quit. I think that’s something we can build off of.”