South Carolina football: Objective of final 2 games should be to improve porous OL
One of the most inexplicable aspects of the South Carolina experience this season, among several, is that the offensive line continues to struggle.
It is inexplicable because the unit was a strength of an otherwise sub-par team last season, and was arguably the most experienced unit on the team entering this season. Coach Shane Beamer even boasted that it was a leg up for him as a first-year coach, because most first-year situations don’t have experienced or talented line play.
As Phil Steele put it his preseason magazine: “With 4 starters back, and 9 with starting experience (84 career starts), this unit should be improved.” What was supposed to be a strength has turned into the biggest liability.
It was never more evident than last week against Missouri when the Tigers had 3 sacks, and the Gamecocks mustered just 57 rushing yards, although some 60 yards were lost on sacks. Missouri also had 6 tackles for a loss. There is no rest for the weary because Auburn and Clemson in the next 2 weeks will bring in 2 of the best defensive fronts in the country. Auburn has the No. 5 rushing defense in the SEC, while Clemson is No. 3 in the ACC.
Auburn’s is not quite as strong, but Clemson is among the top 20 teams in the country in sacks this season.
There have been plenty of so-called explanations about “miscommunication,” which was a problem last week. Each week it is referenced, the excuse becomes weaker and weaker, because how can the coaching be effective when it’s still a problem 11 weeks into the season? But like any major struggle, there are a variety of issues at play.
It’s also a case of the third-string quarterback, Jason Brown, struggling with continuity on stepping up in the pocket. He did it to Josh Vann on big plays against Florida and Texas A&M, but it was missing against Missouri.
“Everyone wants to beat up on the offensive line and they’ll be the first to tell you, they didn’t play great. Some of those sacks, and Jason Brown knows this, Jason Brown has to step up in the pocket,” Beamer said Sunday night on his media teleconference.
It’s up to Brown to diagnose the holes in a defense when a blitz exposes the offensive line, and that’s an underrated element to being a successful quarterback. Brown acknowledges that he needs to trust the offensive line and stay in the pocket longer. However, there is a theory that Brown’s lack of scrambling decisions comes from the coaching staff wanting to be extra cautious because of the limited bodies there following injuries to Luke Doty and Zeb Noland.
Some have wondered if the troubling offensive line has hampered Marcus Satterfield’s coordination of the offense because he’s hamstrung.
Adjustments through personnel are all but over as the coaching staff understands what it has, and how effective a player is at cross-training between guard and tackle.
The persistent lack of development, or even consistency, may have just exposed that these linemen simply aren’t very good. That will cause Beamer to make changes to the coaching staff, and take a good hard look at the scheme because these issues didn’t exist last season.
The Gamecocks will be tested down the stretch, and this is one of the first true tests for Beamer’s leadership to identify how to fix an ongoing problem.