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I Almost Feel Bad for the Gamecock Offense: Tigers vs. Gamecocks preview

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When things fall apart they tend to shatter

Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Will Muschamp you’ve done it again. You’ve managed to ruin everything for everyone around you, including and especially yourself. South Carolina is going to accomplish what would have sounded impossible in August, they beat the Bulldogs in Athens and still are having a bad season. I’d say we have nothing to worry about, but beating Georgia and Clemson in a losing season just sort of seems like something that South Carolina would do. At this point in the year there’s not much left to hope for in Columbia besides ruining your rival’s season.

Last year South Carolina made a push to transform the offense, throwing the ball a lot for an SEC team and using the threat of the incredibly versatile Deebo Samuel as much as possible. The Gamecocks looked like a different team, like things were changing for the better. It worked right up until it didn’t. South Carolina had a pretty good offense until they were shut out in the last six quarters of the year (by Akron and Virginia). The plan was to keep doing what was working, design an offense that featured senior QB Jake Bentley in an up-tempo, spread system. Then Bentley got hurt the first week of the season and all of that went out the window.

Kentucky v South Carolina
Muschamp was wearing glasses, things were really different
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The entire scheme was adjusted to protect freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, and now resembles one of Muschamp’s Florida teams. I mean that in more ways than one, the offense ranks 91st in SP+, dragging down a team with a borderline top 25 defense and a top 10 special teams unit.

Describing his team this season Muschamp said, “Our formula has pretty much been a 40, 35-40 run game-type deal, about 20-25 passes. For us to be successful, that’s where we kind of are sitting right now”. He isn’t wrong. When the Gamecocks win, they’re averaging forty-two rushes to thirty passes. In losses, the numbers are flipped. If this is going to work for South Carolina they’re going to need to be able to control the ball, slow the tempo and create a few big plays. That’s a major problem for the Gamecocks, who have 66 rushing yards on 44 carries over the last two games. The last we saw of them the punter was the team’s second leading rusher.

In retrospect, and at the time, it’s hard not to believe Georgia died from self-inflicted wounds. The Bulldogs passing game sputtered, they couldn’t move the ball downfield, and after an overtime spent rummaging through couch cushions the Gamecocks managed to come up with the 20 points they needed to win. None of that game reflected well on South Carolina’s offense, which looked an awful lot like Georgia’s with worse parts. There’s a reason for that, Muschamp and Smart are both former Saban defensive coordinators and they are stuck in the offensive stodginess that Saban has long abandoned. The game was the two spiderman’s pointing at each other meme until South Carolina stole a victory.

This year the South Carolina offense doesn’t really have an identity besides pissing their fans off, although I guess that’s been the identity all along. The offensive coaching staff is in hot water, and with a bye week to prepare, seems to be coaching for their jobs. I wish them luck against Brent Venables. Muschamp’s job appears to be safe.

App State was able to shut down the South Carolina run game with a shifting front and swarming linebackers/secondary. The Mountaineers sat on screens/RPO’s on the perimeter and got downhill aggressively the second the Gamecocks showed run. A&M’s linebackers were selling out against the run and it mostly worked. A lot of the Gamecocks best running plays (pin-pull, power, counter) involve at least one pulling lineman, and there’s no disguising that.

The play-action and RPO game haven’t been able to punish teams consistently, Hilinski has been trending downwards for weeks. Last we saw of Hilinski, Texas A&M held him below 40% passing. He’s a non-factor in the running game as well.

Clemson is perfectly equipped to run the schemes App State did with better talent. The pin-pull and RPOs off that have occasionally been good to the Gamecocks this year, but it’s hard to see that working too well against the Tigers’ team speed.

Backup QB Dakereon Joyner sees the field basically as a desperation a wildcat QB. He’s dangerous on the ground but an even more raw passer than Hilinski.

Hilinski can execute simple concepts well enough to occasionally keep the chains moving. He has some talent at receiver despite injuries. Bryan Edwards (#89) a senior from Conway, SC is the guy to watch for if he tries to suit up and play, but with his knee injury will be severely limited/foolish to do so.

Hilinski can run RPO’s and simple play-action concepts, and has the arm strength to get the ball downfield. Offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon is good at scheming players open a handful of times a game. Hilinski just doesn’t make plays like this anywhere near consistently enough.

He struggles to reliably throw accurate passes and it impacts the entire RPO game.

He’ll force some contested passes under pressure as well.

Things get ugly when Hilinski gets off schedule. He’s not going to beat you scrambling, and the Gamecocks have struggled to protect the QB this year. You get the sense that they’re in more danger than you are when Hilinski tries to throw on the run.

If it sounds like nothing has worked lately, well, that’d be accurate. U of SC has twenty one points to show for their last two games. Nothing would make them happier than to spoil Clemson’s season, and potentially a shot at the playoff. There’s just no reason to believe that’ll happen. This is an offense that has spent the year falling apart, and it might get the wrong coach fired at the end of the season. A year after putting up six hundred yards against the Tigers, the Gamecocks might be lucky not to get shutout at home.