South Carolina is not the type of offense one would expect from Will Muschamp. First year coordinator Bryan McClendon’s offense throws more than just about anyone in the SEC, and the offense has had a hit or miss run game for years now.
The Gamecocks offense runs through junior quarterback Jake Bentley, complemented by three talented receivers, an experienced (if thin) offensive line and a pair of decent running backs. South Carolina plans to attack the Clemson offense with tempo, something Muschamp notes the Tigers have had issues defending. With Clemson nearly a four touchdown favorite the Gamecocks will need to generate every advantage they can get in Death Valley.
The Gamecocks base in 11 personnel, usually with a tight end off the line of scrimmage. 11, 12 or empty are the majority of the offense right now, although they do have heavier (and under center) formations for short yardage. McClendon is good at using formations and shifts to create running angles, and has followed the generally good rule of “feed Deebo Samuel the ball however possible”.
South Carolina throws the ball slightly more than average on running downs and runs more than average on passing downs. Although the running game hasn’t been particularly effective they’ve recommitted to it since running the ball 18 times in a loss to Texas A&M. The Gamecocks run inside zone, outside zone, dart and power plays. The running game is mostly straight ahead, although they’re very good at running outside zone away from the tight end to punish teams that over adjust. It’s worth noting USC’s running backs have been banged up.
Jake Bentley is not an option QB, and RPO’s have been dialed back significantly by Muschamp. Muschamp seems to just not like them on a fundamental level, saying ““We’re calling runs and we feel like we’re running the football and we ending up throwing the football,” Muschamp said. “We’re not getting in the run game as much as we need to.”
That’s fine, South Carolina has been pretty bad at RPO’s this year. Every slant + dart play seems to end in a contested slant being broken up or the back being tackled in the backfield. Despite rarely giving up TFL’s (OL coach Eric Wolford is up for the Broyles award) the Gamecocks seem to struggle with plays their tackles pull.
The passing game is the strength of the offense, the Gamecocks are great at play-action, screens and passing downs. The Gamecocks struggle to get into third and short situations, and usually move the chains with the passing game. The offensive line keeps Bentley upright a variety of ways, include cut blocking on some quick passes.
Deebo Samuels is the star receiver, but Bryan Edwards is massive and talented and Shi Smith is incredibly dangerous. The tight ends are mostly there to block, and the depth behind the top three receivers is young or suspect. The top three guys are problems though, and the Gamecocks get them open downfield. The play-action game is particularly dangerous. Bentley is good at using his athleticism to set up throws outside of the pocket on bootlegs.
Bentley has had some rough moments in big games but also been on a tear lately. He’s elusive and strong armed behind a good offensive line. This is one of the better offenses Clemson has played this year. Bentley chooses his spots when it comes to running, but his legs set up his arm even when he winds up throwing.
The Gamecocks aren’t anything special as a run+screen team but they are excellent at using screens to punish over aggressive pass rushes. The defense is going to be excited for a night game at home, but has to be careful to stay at home early.
The Gamecocks are a talented team, and although they’re unlikely to win they’re too good to get blown out. The South Carolina offensive coaches have been adjusting their offense the second half of the year to positive results, and the Gamecocks are two possessions from 8-2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Clemson didn’t cover. Still, it’s hard to see South Carolina beating Clemson unless Jake Bentley has the game of his life.