South Carolina football: Gamecocks have no idea what they want to do on offense
In the wake of its sixth straight loss to Power 5 team and worst start to season since 1999, the South Carolina offense is in dire straits.
Freshman QB Ryan Hilinski didn’t finish Saturday’s game, a 34-14 loss at Missouri, after he was squashed on a hit by a Missouri lineman less than a week after he missed practice with elbow soreness. Hilinski slowly left the field after receiving attention from the medical staff.
The running game didn’t have much of a pulse Saturday as the Gamecocks mustered 16 rushing yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Rico Dowdle, who led the team with 17 yards and had the TD, got 11 on one run.
What’s more, the team was just 3-for-16 on third down conversions.
The out-of-synch offense showed unusual tendencies early. On South Carolina’s third drive, Dakereon Joyner took the snap at QB with Hilinski split wide, the first time the Gamecocks showed that this year, and made a 4-yard gain on a keeper. On the next play, Hilinski threw high on third down, his third off-target throw in a wobbly first half.
Hilinski appeared to right himself, and the offense, as he hit Bryan Edwards for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. But overall, Hilinski completed 43 percent of his passes and took sacks in two of his final three dropbacks before Joyner replaced him for South Carolina’s final possession of the game.
For his part, Joyner was 6-for-11 passing for 89 yards. Joyner also had six carries, but for minus-4 yards.
Hilinski’s injury, however severe, could be one thing. But there will be plenty of questions about South Carolina’s inability to find the likes of Edwards, who had six catches for 113 yards, not much overall since 75 was on one play. And tight end Kyle Markway, who had three catches for 52 yards a week after he had five catches for 46 yards and a TD against Alabama.
Coach Will Muschamp dismissed any injury concerns about Hilinski and said he was cleared by doctors.
The trouble with the offensive struggles is they bleed over to the defense. The South Carolina defense played 54 snaps in the first half, and Muschamp mentioned fatigue as a factor after the game.
“Let’s get back to work, that’s all we can do right now,” Muschamp said. “And try find a way to get a win, that’s what we need to do. We’ll have a great crowd at Williams-Brice on Saturday night at our stadium. I know our fans will be there, excited about it, and we’ll be there, too. So we need to get back to work and find some more answers of what we can do to play more consistently as a team. We just haven’t been very consistent at all in anything.”
This week brings to town a Kentucky team that has a lot in common with South Carolina. A QB injury also forced the Wildcats to use the backup, and they also have two SEC losses, including Saturday at Mississippi State. The Gamecocks will try to secure their first Power 5 victory since Nov. 3 against Ole Miss.
One lingering storyline for South Carolina: It will try to snap Kentucky’s five-game winning streak in the series, which stretches back to before Muschamp’s tenure.