The South Carolina Gamecocks’ offense was almost good enough to beat Clemson. The Gamecocks were not perfect, and they left some points on the field, so they can’t get an A-plus for their offensive performance… but they were close to being as good as they possibly could have hoped for.
By Matt Zemek
They merited an A-minus for what they did on offense against Brent Venables and the rest of Clemson’s back seven. If they had converted on a fourth down in the Clemson red zone in the first half and scored 42 points, they would have done everything which reasonably could have been asked of them. Jake Bentley carried his strong run of form into – and then through – this game. Deebo Samuel made his presence felt.
This was the South Carolina offense Will Muschamp and the fan base expected before the season. This was the offense, however, which needed two months to emerge in full.
And even with that, South Carolina didn’t come particularly close to beating Clemson.
The Gamecocks have a defense-first head coach, Muschamp, but have had a toothless run defense for much of the season, and have not been able to play games with the style or tempo of a Muschamp team. This leaves the Gamecocks in a very uncomfortable position as they wind toward the end of their regular season.
One can look at the way this season has played out and quite reasonably conclude that unless the offense is playing at a high level, this team – this program – has a painfully small margin for error. That was never the way Muschamp had to win games. It was never the reason Muschamp, specifically, was hired to coach this team. Muschamp was meant to expand the margin for error and create a team on which the offense would not have to do the disproportionate share of the heavy lifting.
This backdrop to the coming regular-season finale against Akron – a makeup game for a September cancellation of the Marshall contest – is relevant to the three keys for reasons you will easily be able to see:
1 – ROTATE ON DEFENSE
The Gamecocks are in a position where this game is a kind of “preliminary bowl practice.” It is a game South Carolina can and should be able to win without playing its starters the whole 60 minutes. Muschamp and his staff should try to get a head start on bowl preparations and the runup to the coming offseason. He needs to give meaningful reps to more players on defense so that he can see more of what he has from players who weren’t able to accumulate as many reps during the first 11 games of the season.
2 – GO YOUNGER
Bowl practices turn the page from veteran players to younger players. The focus of a program begins to look toward the coming year in a real way, with spring ball not quite in full view but just around the corner. This game can give young players a head start. It is worth treating the game as a showcase for youth, at least after halftime.
3 – RUN IT UP
Run up the score? No – run the ball. See what the running game can do. Bentley does not need to throw a lot of pitches Saturday.