With a new offensive identity, and a new signal caller, South Carolina started to build an offensive identity Saturday night. There’s a long way to go, but opportunity abounds.
It’s rare to come out guns blazing and simply whip a talented team like Tennessee. While South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and his squad made big plays, it’s the little things that often caused issues.
Penalties, a missed block here or there, a pass just slightly off target. All things that need to improve moving forward.
Offensive Line in Pass Protection
It’s often mentioned that offensive line play is all about five players working as one. For that reason, no specific offensive lineman will be mentioned within this segment, or the article for that matter, because it played up and down when protecting the quarterback.
When provided with a strong pocket, starting quarterback Collin Hill made some money throws. While he will need to improve his accuracy moving forward, Hill’s ability to hit a few big plays over the middle and deep down field showed his physical tools were SEC level. That’s where the protection comes into play.
When Hill was pressured and/or moved off his spot, his accuracy and ability to find receivers certainly changed. That’s normal. Hill is human. It’s just that Tennessee was able to get to Hill too often. That’s not just about the four sacks.
Hill needed more time to pass. He’s a pocket quarterback. He’s not going to move around like a read-option signal caller and make plays with his feet. A few items need to change.
First, basic blitzes and stunts must be picked up better. Even if the Volunteers did not reach Hill, they changed his rhythm by penetrating into the backfield. It’s basic football 101. That’s enough to change a play, and a game. More first down passing, and moving Hill outside the pocket is a recipe for success.
Despite Hill’s lack of pure speed, it would have helped to roll him out as well as throw more on first down. Doing so makes Tennessee adjust and possibly create just one more big play. Moving forward to next week’s game in the Swamp down in Gainesville, South Carolina better find ways to move Hill’s launching point because the Gators are going to blitz all game long. It’s a very athletic front seven. South Carolina will definitely be challenged to keep Hill upright.
Evaluating the Running Game
Even if you discount the -12 yards rushing from a non-running threat like Hill, South Carolina would have only rushed for 101 yards. That’s tough sledding for a brand new starting quarterback and offensive coordinator to overcome. For the night, 89 rushing yards. The Gamecocks needed at least another forty yards rushing, which would have led to more first downs and better passing opportunities for Hill. It was a tough opponent.
No question that Tennessee’s front seven has some serious talent. Linebacker Henry To’o To’o made his presence felt in the passing game with the pick six and added a sack and six tackles. He’s a stud. But it’s Tennessee’s overall front seven depth that kept South Carolina’s running game off balance. Further, South Carolina shot itself in the foot far too often.
Too many Gamecocks’ drives showed promise, but one blocking assignment missed, and boom! A five yard gain turns into a second down and long. That’s not winning football. There were holes for South Carolina running backs, but too many self-inflicted wounds caused issues during several other plays. For the most part, Tennessee wanted to keep everything in front of them and force the Gamecocks to march the length of the field. The strategy worked.
South Carolina simply could not consistently run the football, especially on first down. No breakaway run the entire night does not help either. The longest rush of the night was a mere 13 yards.
What’s ironic, a few of those five yard runs could have been forty- or fifty-yard runs. It’s just one more block here or there. That’s football. The offensive line must do better, and the running backs need to create even more yardage after contact.
Shi Smith: Playmaker
After 43 receptions, 489-yards, and two touchdowns as a junior, Shi Smith exploded for 10 receptions and 140 yards and one touchdown versus the Volunteers. He was the go-to wide receiver.
Over the middle, underneath, or any place else on the field, Hill wanted to find Smith. Oh how Smith delivered. The dynamic Senior from Union, SC (Union County High School) proved he’s one of the SEC’s biggest playmakers. There will be a new challenge for Smith after Saturday night.
How will South Carolina adjust to the inevitable double teams that Smith will receive? At least two other South Carolina wide receivers need to step up, and step up immediately. With trips to Gainesville and Nashville to play the Gators and Commodores coming up, followed by a visit from Auburn and a trip to Death Valley to play LSU, that will be four more weeks of really talented SEC defenses.
All of those defensive staffs will attempt to take away Smith with variations of coverages and double teams. Who’s going to step up for the Gamecocks to alleviate some of the receiving pressure off Smith?
Perhaps it’s going to be talented sophomore Xavier Legette. He caught four passes for 61 yards against Tennessee, but 42 of those yards came on one play. If Legette can make just one additional defender miss and/or get open a couple more times against single coverage, South Carolina’s offense will look a whole lot different. Defenses will be forced to pick and choose when it double teams Smith, and that opens up the running game as well.
What Can Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo Build Upon?
Some of the play calls simply did not turn out well due to execution. That’s been covered, but it needed to be reiterated. Block better, pass better, etc. That’s first and foremost. It’s game one during a pandemic, so improvements will certainly come. Now, where can Coach Bobo expand the offense?
A few more bootlegs with a tight end dragging to the flat would help Hill, and it keeps outside linebackers and defensive ends from constantly crashing down on the running backs. Tight end Nick Muse played well in the passing game. Perhaps he deserves more credit, and more touches, moving forward.
He could be the additional piece that helps South Carolina keep drives alive with clutch third down grabs. It’s first down that’s most interesting however.
If Bobo and Muschamp want to really provide Hill, Smith, and the offense as a whole more opportunities, more first down passing will be needed. It does not need to be fancy or flashy like the Kansas City Chiefs, but going against tendencies, especially against a defense like Florida next week, will help move the chains.
Sophomore running backs Kevin Harris and Deshaun Fenwick combined for 88 yards and one rushing touchdown from 19 carries. That’s a solid start. Mixing in more first down passes will likely increase the rushing game performance.
Gators up Next
There’s no time to cry, because a trip to Gainesville comes next. South Carolina will need to fix some issues as mentioned above, but more than anything its adjustments; this is not a complete overhaul. South Carolina did score 27 points against a quality SEC opponent after all.
A focused and energized group will be needed to play Florida. The defense played mediocre football for the Gators Saturday. Big plays in the passing game and running game were given up. Honestly, Tennessee played a more sound and consistent game than Florida did, defensively speaking. Scoring will be needed from the outset to beat Florida.
Kyle Trask absolutely lit up Ole Miss’s defense. Yes, they struggled on defense, but Ole Miss had no answers for Trask and many of his pinpoint throws. South Carolina will likely need to score over 30 points to have a shot to defeat Florida. The Gators offense has several playmakers. More on the Gators and their personnel later this week.