South Carolina football: What is the ceiling for the Gamecocks' offense?
In the past decade, the only time South Carolina reached the top 5 of the SEC in total offense was 2011, the dawn of the 3 consecutive 11-2 seasons.
Connor Shaw, Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington all put up big numbers as the team at one point was ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll.
Compare the 2019 version of players at those positions and there are more than a few similarities, even some areas that are better with the likes of Jake Bentley, Rico Dowdle, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith. Case in point, Jeffery made 49 catches in 2011 for 762 yards and 8 TDs. Edwards had more catches and more yards than that each of the past 2 seasons.
The linchpin is Bentley, who is well aware of his interception troubles. He has thrown 14 and 12 the past 2 seasons. That takes the shine off of him being in the top 4 of SEC quarterbacks in yards also each of the past 2 seasons.
“The big thing being consistency and just bringing the same thing, the same game every week at practice,” Bentley said at a recent local Media Days session. “Then obviously the glaring thing is taking care of the ball better. That’s something that we stressed in the spring, and did a good job at.”
Edwards is poised to put his name atop of every school receiving record, which is high company considering all-time greats like Deebo Samuel, Jeffery, Sidney Rice, among others, on that list.
Along with Smith, OrTre Smith, Josh Vann and others, Muschamp feels comfortable about his recruiting track record at receiver.
“I think we have some good weapons around Jake to help him be the best quarterback he can be,” Muschamp said at SEC Media Days.
A big recent addition is former Clemson RB Tavien Feaster, who brings immediate credibility from being a starter at Clemson and churning out 1,330 rushing yards and 15 TDs in 3 seasons. He also had 23 catches and 183 yards and a TD the past 2 seasons.
“He’s a very versatile player,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said. “The first thing (he brings) is competition. We needed more guys in the room that could compete and play at a high level and he can definitely do that. He played a bunch of ball at the other school, and is a great receiver out of the backfield, great hands.”
Add in Dowdle, who is capable of being a 1,000-yard rusher if he stays healthy for a full season, and the Gamecocks suddenly have a formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield.
This brings to bear how offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon will deploy the offense. There are plenty of talented and experienced weapons available, but the ceiling will be determined by how McClendon maximizes this group.
In terms of offensive philosophy, Muschamp 3 years ago admitted to his troubles in that area at Florida.
“I probably made a mistake at Florida trying to change schematically from what they had done before,” Muschamp said. “As a result, we ended up not being very good at anything. These days you just don’t have time to make a lot of changes. You have to adapt to what your kids can do.”
Last year was a success. The Gamecocks averaged 30.1 points per game, almost a touchdown more than in 2017 and nearly 10 points better than their 2016 production. Part of last year’s success could be attributed to better understanding their personnel.
Muschamp now admits to being flexible for how he wants to attack a defense.
“We’re always thinking, what is going to do to help us to win the game,” Muschamp said. “Philosophically, we would love to stay balanced offensively. We want to dictate the tempo of the game. We want to run the ball in critical situations, meaning short-yardage, red zone, end of game situations and goal line; the 3 things we talk about from my standpoint. But you know I followed it up by saying, if we need to throw it 50 times, let’s throw it 50 times. If we need to run it 50 times, let’s run it 50 times. We’re going to do what it takes to win. At the end of the day only one stat matters, and that’s winning.”